Just Hug a Tree

One of the popular movements of the 60’s and 70’s was to be more environmentally minded. “We need to save mother nature!” was the cry. Protests, rallies, and concerts joined the chorus. Nature must be preserved. Today, this movement has become political. Various candidates all proposing different plans to save the earth and to protect our world. Often, the most vehement defenders of nature have drastically conflicting world views from Christians. What should a Christian think about all of this? Should we be conservationally minded? Does the bible have anything to say about this topic? All of these are important questions.

Throughout Scripture, we find numerous references to God’s creation. From the very beginning, God places the stars and planets in the sky, the trees and flowers on the earth, the mountains and hills rising against the skyline, and the waves crashing on the shore. Time and again, the Scriptures talk about God’s creation and how it all brings glory to Him. In Psalm 8, David says of the creation, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Or, in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that all men know of God because He is made known through His creation. 

Christian author and apologist, C.S. Lewis explained that the creation is like a mirror. When someone looks at a beautiful flower or an intricate spiders web, they are seeing a mere reflection of God’s greater beauty and intricacy. All of creation serves this same purpose – namely, to reflect God’s attributes and to bring Him glory. In this way, every single piece of nature is significant. 

What should we take away from all of this? First, we, as Christians, should care about nature. We should desire the preservation and protection of the trees and plants. We care about them because they ultimately point us (and all who see them) back to the one who made them. Second, we should use nature as a talking point. John 1 tells us that Christ is the one who made all things. The next time you see a beautiful flower, you have a reason to talk about Jesus! Finally, take time during your day to enjoy God’s creation. Look at flowers, marvel at the work of the tiny ants, or even go and hug a tree. God made it all, so enjoy it, and praise Him for it!

** Post was written by Ethan McConnell, Pastoral Intern of Chester ARP Church

PAtience is always required

It’s summertime and that means that many of us are using our grills regularly to cook food for our family and friends. There’s not much better than a hot, juicy cheeseburger grilled to perfection, is there? 

In his cookbook, Boy Meets Grill, celebrity chef Bobby Flay defined grilling as a means of “cooking food quickly over a very hot fire,” which gives the food a “seared, flavorful crust and a juicy interior.” That’s what makes it so good! 

In many ways, I think our contemporary society can be defined as a grilling culture, and it’s not just because of the fun, the casual fellowship, and the relaxation that comes from gathering around the grill. It’s because we love things to come at us hot and fast. It suits our appetite. 

We want our internet instantly, with its movies on demand and our news in small, manageable, fast-paced portions. We want immediate economic and political solutions to our greatest problems. We want systems changed overnight. We want educational options and medical advancements without delay. 

This is all well and good until we confront the absolute impossibilities of our demands. It takes time to develop vaccines and effective treatments for unknown viruses. It takes time to recover from severe economic recessions. It takes time to create acceptable options from which parents, children, and educators can choose their preferred method of education. It takes time to address our greatest social dilemmas. 

God knew this as he inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you…” (Colossians 3:12-13). This brief instruction challenges us to be kind, compassionate, meek, patient, and forgiving. Every one of these qualities is necessary for the development, maintenance, and growth of a good and profitable society. That really doesn’t need any further explanation, does it? It is self-evident.

As I conclude, I’ll revisit the introduction of Bobby Flay’s cookbook where he made the distinction between grilling and barbequing. Barbecuing, he wrote, “is slow cooking over a low flame and is suitable for less tender food.” The low heat over a long time breaks down the connective tissue and makes the tough meat delicate and delicious!

Friends, most of our personal and societal problems aren’t tender and suitable for grilling. They’re tough, and they would be far better smoked. And, smoking takes patience. So, let us put on compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience as we bear one another’s burdens, working together to make this world a better place. 

** The above article originally appeared in the Wednesday, July 29, 2020 edition of the The Chester News and Reporter.

What Has Happened to Grace?

What ever happened to grace? 

Have you been wondering that lately? 

I have. 

It seems as if almost everyone has forgotten this little five letter word that author Philip Yancey has called our “last best word.” In fact, our experiences when interacting with one another both on social media and interpersonally often reflect the opposite of grace – harshness. 

Now, I know that there are still plenty of displays of grace all around us, especially in our local community. But, would you not also agree that our society is becoming less and less characterized by grace, politeness, and good manners? 

We jockey with one another for position. We tear each other down in order to elevate ourselves. We withhold forgiveness from those who have offended us. We hold others to impossible standards of behavior that we have no intention of meeting ourselves. We create fear in others to prevent our imperfections from being exposed. We do it all in some attempt to make ourselves feel better about our weaknesses and our failures. 

This is what makes grace such an amazing word!

Grace is, in a biblical sense, the unmerited favor of God. It says that God loves and accepts you and me regardless of who we are, where we have been, what we have done, what we have not done, or where we are from. God loves us, provides salvation for us in Jesus Christ, and pours forth immeasurable blessings upon us. 

John Newton wrote the most famous song about grace – Amazing Grace. Interestingly, his story of redemption began as the captain of a slave ship. His heart was arrested by the love, mercy, and grace of God and his life was transformed. After converting to Christianity, he renounced his former trade and worked tirelessly for the abolition of the slave trade. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “I’m a great sinner, but Christ is an even great Savior.” 

God’s powerful and transformative grace enables us to be gracious to one another. Think about it. If you’re accepted by God, then you don’t need to elevate yourself over other people. Why? Because your identity is no longer found in relation to them; rather, it is rooted squarely in what God says about you. Therefore, you are free to be gracious, loving, polite, and forgiving to those you see daily. 

Newton was right. Grace is truly amazing. We are much better off when we live in grace and extend it to others, for our world thirsts for it in ways it does not even recognize. 

This article was originally written for and published in the Wednesday, June 24, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

Dealing with a Crisis According to Jesus

From the beginning of March, we have been living in a continual crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of social distancing policies. All of our students missed out on the last three months of their school year while our graduating seniors missed out on many of the rites of passage that they had anticipated over the last 3-4 years. And, the events of the last two weeks with the death of George Floyd and it’s repercussions have increased our senses of uncertainty, confusion, and frustration. Each of these realities would have been challenging in and of themselves, but when combined they have created a cultural pressure cooker, which has caused me to consider the proper attitude to possess while dealing with crises. 

As a Christian, my first inclination was to study the life of Jesus to examine how he dealt with crises. When I did, I found six attitudes in his life that I think we would do well to adopt when we face our own crises or walk with others through them. Here they are. 

  • Be Prayerful – Jesus was prayerful at all times. He never did anything without consulting his Heavenly Father. He knew that prayer always gets the attention of the God who can actually do something about the situation. 
  • Be Willing to Listen and Learn – When Jesus encountered someone in crisis, he always took the time to listen to the person and learn about what was really going on in the person’s situation. He didn’t make assumptions. 
  • Be Compassionate – Jesus always felt the person’s pain and sought to do something to help alleviate it. That is what makes compassion such a special quality. It motivates us to do something to alleviate the burdens of other people. 
  • Be Gracious – Jesus embodied grace. He always treated folks with grace and dignity, often giving them what they didn’t deserve. He simply responded to their pain. 
  • Be Righteous – Jesus never did anything that was not right. He was perfect. He did not use the situation to justify actions that did not meet God’s holy standard. No amount of pain or frustration absolves us of the responsibility to do and think what is right. 
  • Be Wise – Jesus embodied wisdom as he always properly applied the truth to daily life. He never misapplied it. 

I’m convinced that a prayerful, listening, compassionate, gracious, righteous, and wise person is well suited to confront the challenges that this world presents. Attitude matters. It determines how we respond, the words we say, and the character we exhibit throughout our lives. Let us follow Jesus’s lead while walking through these current crises as well as those that are sure to come throughout the balance of our lives. 

This post was originally written for the Wednesday, June 10 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.

Developing Selflessness

One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Philippians 2:2-4. There Paul writes, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

I think I like these words so much because of the way they focus on the virtue of selflessness and connect it to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul challenges us to elevate others above ourselves and to do it in the same way that Jesus does it for us. He willingly sacrificed himself for each one of us. We are to do the same for one another. And, we are to do it out of love. That’s why Jesus did it!

This reminds me of a story I heard from a World War II Veteran named Roy several years ago. He was fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium when a German explosive device rolled into his shallow foxhole. One of his fellow soldiers immediately dove onto the device to muffle its blow. As soon as he covered it with his body, it exploded. The blast killed the young soldier instantaneously. His sacrifice, however, saved the lives of Roy and the two other young men in the foxhole. I’ll never forget the emotion that welled up in Roy’s eyes and voice as he told that story of that heroic young soldier. He didn’t bat an eye. He did what had become natural to him. He sacrificed himself for Roy and the other men.

I’ve talked to many soldiers who would have done the exact same thing. Why? Because they were trained to put the needs and desires of others above their own. This is what all of us should be doing as well. Selflessness does not come naturally to any of us, but it can be developed in all of us through faith, intentional decision-making, and action. Pastor Tim Keller has said, “Selflessness is thinking of yourself less.” If we decide to do that, then we will consider others more highly than we do ourselves over time. And, I believe we’d be happier people and build a better society because of it. Don’t you?

This post was written for the Wednesday, May 27, 2020 edition of Chester News and Reporter.

Christian Hope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Recently, I’ve been asked, “Why are most Christians calm in the midst of the pandemic and yet anxious to return to Church?” The answer to these two great questions is really simple: Our hope extends beyond death. You see, death is not the end of life for Christians. It’s the beginning of the rest of our lives in the presence of our loving, gracious, and powerful God. So, we’re not terrified of death nor its causes. Here’s why. 

According to the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth lived a unique life from the time of his birth to his ascension into Heaven. He was perfect, died the death of a criminal, and rose from the grave. As Christians, we root our own personal stories of conversion in his marvelous story. He lived for us, died for us, and rose for us. This means that we died to this world when he died, and we gained eternal life when he rose. 

Reflecting on this good news in 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul says that our future life with God after death is guaranteed by Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. This hope enables us to face any challenge with the calm that comes from an eternal perspective. This life isn’t all there is. There is one to come what will be far more wonderful. 

At present we are weary and anxious since we cannot gather with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for vigorous corporate worship, free of restrictions. You may ask why it’s so important to be present with one another when we have technological capabilities to stream services live or broadcast recorded ones online. Another great question. Here’s the answer. 

Gathered, in-person corporate worship is special for the people of God. It is a union of heart, soul, and mind among those present as they commune with God and fellowship with one another in spirit and truth. During the worship experience, we praise the God who’s saved us, enjoy fellowship with him and one another, participate in the worshipping activity of heaven, and obey our Lord’s commands. So, a prolonged period of isolation which prevents us from gathering for worship is wearisome and soul-numbing simply because it keeps us from doing what we were created and redeemed to do: worship God together. This is why many Christians throughout the world are willing to take risks, sometimes major risks, to join with one another in corporate worship. 

There you have it. Our eternal hope in Christ and deep longing to be in the presence of God and his people give us peace in these tumultuous days and a deep desire to worship God together. Our hearts are emboldened and our decisions are informed. We stand in the power of Christ. 

This article was written for The Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC. It originally appeared in May 15, 2020’s edition. 

Joshua: The Final Part of A Complete Deliverance

The sixth book of the Bible is the first of the twelve historical books of the Old Testament. These twelve books tell the story of Israel’s entry into the Promised Land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, their subsequent inhabitance of the Land during the time of the Judges and the transition of leadership from that of a judge to that of a king. Also, these books chronicle the division of the kingdom into rival kingdoms, the downfall and exile of each kingdom, Judean life during exile, and the eventual return of the Judeans from exile under Persian rule. All told, these historical books document a history of over 1000 years and tell Israel’s fascinating story with all of its ups and down, twists and turns.

The Book Bears His Name, but Did He Write It?  

The book of Joshua is named after its leading character, but, we do not know its author’s identity. Jewish tradition maintains that Joshua wrote the narrative as an autobiography of his experience leading the Israelites into the Promised Land with his death narrative being the one big exception to his authorship. (He very well couldn’t have written that, could he?) However, no internal or external literary evidence exists that can substantiate this claim of authorship. Parts of the book do indeed claim Joshua’s own penmanship, but others tend to point an authorship of a much later date. Repeatedly, we find the phrase, “to this day,” in the narrative, which suggests a significant lapse in time between the events of the book and the book’s final literary form. Thus, the book’s author remains anonymous.

This authorial anonymity means that the books’ original audience and date of composition remains unknown to us as well. What we do know is that book’s original audience and date is inextricably tied to the date of the conquest of Canaan. Scholars have debated this date for years, but they have not been able to arrive at a consensus. Many favor a later date for the Exodus and subsequent conquest (1400 BC) while others favor an earlier one (1250 BC). The discrepancy in dating is largely due to two factors: the difficulty of determining accurate dates for archeological evidence and sites and the challenge of the accuracy of the number of years in that 1 Kings attributes to the time between the Exodus and the construction of Solomon’s Temple.

Does a Historical Book Have Theological Meaning and Value?

A common question regarding historical books, especially for us modern readers, is: Do historical books have present meaning and value beyond just telling a story. The Bible’s answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” Think with me for a moment about the previous five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch – and their meaning. For them meaning is found in the fact that they tell the story of God’s interaction with his people and their subsequent deliverance, obedience, and disobedience. Joshua is no different. It is a record of God’s dealing with his people and graciously fulfilling all his promises to them. But, Joshua’s value goes much deeper than that.

The great act of salvation history in the Old Testament is not the Exodus alone. It is the Exodus coupled with the conquest and inhabitance of the Promised Land. God did not simply promise to deliver his people from the land of bondage, from the house of slavery. He promised to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of provision, a land of freedom, and a land of promise. The deliverance from the bondage cannot be separated from the inheritance of the land. And, the book of Joshua tells us the story of how the Israelites came to possess their inheritance by chronicling their conquest and distribution of the land. This should bring great comfort to our weary souls. God has promised not just to deliver us from sin, but to bring you into his eternal rest. And, it is all ours in Christ. Like the Israelites, our deliverance in Christ cannot be separated from our final inheritance with God in Heaven. Praise the Lord!

Joshua’s Story in Four Parts

The book of Joshua breaks down most easily into four parts. They are as follows:

  1. Israel crosses over into the Promised Land (1:1-5:15) – This section begins with the commissioning of Joshua as leader of God’s people, Moses’ successor. As Joshua’s first official act as leader, he sends spies into the Promised Land. They find refuge with Rahab and are delivered from the Canaanites through her efforts. Following this event, Israel crosses over the Jordan River, builds a memorial of stones, and renews their ritual of circumcision – setting them aside for God.
  2. The Conquest of the Land begins and ends (6:1-12:24) – Jericho falls under the miraculous power of God and the unorthodox tactics of Israel. That’s the first city to fall. Achan sins and Israel is defeated at Ai. Achan is judged for his sin, Israel is renewed and Ai is defeated. The land is subsequently cleared with the exception of Gibeon, for the Gibeonites tricked the Israelites with a treaty.
  3. The land is divided (13:1-221:45) – The three tribes who had asked for land on the east of the Jordan River have fulfilled their obligations. They are allowed to take their land. The rest of the nine, except Levi, are then given land on the west of the Jordan River. Joshua says, in effect, “It’s yours, now take it!” This section ends with chapters 20 and 21 where a provision is made for land to be used for justice and worship.
  4. Israel is called to serve the Lord in the Land (22:1-24:33) – The Eastern Tribes Return home pledging their faithfulness to be one nation under God. Joshua charges the people of Israel to be faithful to their God and the people renew their covenant with God in Shechem. The book ends with Joshua’s last charge to the Israelites and his death and burial.

One Final Point: This is War and It’s Holy

Many of us read Joshua and are struck with what appears to be a blatant prescription for genocide. God commands the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, leaving none of them, including women and children. This certainly challenges our thinking that God is a just, merciful, and loving God.

Three things must be said in response to our concerns over God’s command and Israel’s obedience to it. They are:

  1. God gave this specific command to his people through the unique relationship he had established with them through Moses. Moses was God’s uniquely chosen mouthpiece for communicating with Israel during that specific epoch in Israel’s history. There was never one before and never been one like him since. God has also not had a relationship with his people in the same way he did with the Israelites of the Exodus since the conquest of the Promised Land.
  2. God distinguishes in his Law between those within the Promised Land and those without when it comes to rules of engagement. Israel is to destroy all those within the Promised Land, but not those without its boundaries. And so, God uniquely uses his people in this case to carry out his special will to establish his people in the land of his choosing under the guidance of his sovereign providence.
  3. The Canaanite people weren’t guiltless in their sin against God. Since God’s will was to establish a holy people in the land, he had to rid the land of all unholiness, meaning that the unholy Canaanites had to be removed from the land. Given that the Promised Land is a foretaste of Heaven like the Exodus was a foretaste of God’s deliverance of his people through Christ’s cross, the land had to be cleared of unrighteousness and unholiness just as heaven is cleared.

The reason this drastic measure strikes us as fanatical, and even appalling, is that in the present era of salvation, God has poured out all of his holy wrath on the Lord Jesus Christ who represented all the unrighteousness and unholiness of sinful people on his cross. So, the ultimate Promised Land is cleansed of unrighteousness and unholiness through Jesus’s death. We call this a penal substitutionary atonement. We don’t bear the guilt of our sins; he did. We don’t suffer the just punishment of our sin; he did. We don’t earn our place in Heaven; he did it for us. Be thankful for this grace and read God’s command to Joshua to cleanse the Promised Land through this lens of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It will take on a new meaning when you do!

God is the Central Character in Deuteronomy

The fifth book of the Bible derives its name from a phrase taken from its seventeenth chapter. The future kings of Israel were “to make a copy of this [God’s] Law” which was to be read all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear God by keeping all the words of the Law. Deuteronomy, then, is a repetition of God’s Law originally delivered on Mount Sinai and recorded in great detail in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

A Series of Addresses Arranged as a Treaty

Any brief, surface reading of Deuteronomy will reveal that the book contains a series of addresses delivered by Moses on the plains of Moab to the Israelites. He led them in a renewal of their covenant with God before they embarked upon the conquest of the Promised Land. With the first generation gone, Moses needed to instruct the current Israelites to avoid the sins of their parents and to commit to the Law so that God’s blessing would pour forth from his hand in the future. And, that’s what he did. In response, Israel reaffirmed her allegiance to God and her national commitment to keep His Law. Therefore, the book, though a collection of individual speeches, has been arranged in the form of an ancient treaty between a king and his people.

We can divide the book into five main sections. They are:

  1. Preamble (1:1-5) – This preamble sets the stage for the treaty that is to follow. It provides the setting and relationship out of which God’s treaty with Israel is derived.
  2. Historical Prologue (1:5-4:43) – This section emphasizes God’s providential and miraculous care for his people as well as detailing their spiritual and physical defeat at Kadesh Barnea leading Moses to conclude the section with an appeal to Israel for faithfulness to in her worship of God.
  3. Stipulations (4:44-26:19) – This significant section of the treaty can be broken down further into two sections. The first is General Covenant Stipulations (4:44-11:32). These stipulations are general and range from the Ten Commandments to the Shema (the greatest commandment) to depict the exclusivity of Israel’s relationship with God. The second section is much more specific. In 12:1-16:19, we find specific regulations regarding proper worship, idolatry, the cleanliness of foods, feasts, the sabbatical year, leadership, sexual morality, personal property, justice, marriage, business, tithes, and offerings.
  4. Ratification (27:1-30:20) – This section contains the promise of blessing for obedience and the curse for disobedience along with specific instructions for a solemn assembly of covenant renewal once the Israelites have entered and conquered the Promised Land.
  5. Leadership Succession (31:1-34:12) – This section contains the commissioning of Joshua, the song of Moses, the blessing of the Twelve Tribes, and Moses’s obituary. All of these things tell the story of how Moses prepared the Israelites for life after his death. 

It’s Really About God

Though Deuteronomy is a story of Israel’s covenant renewal, it is really as story about God. He’s the central character who stands out as you read the book. Here are a few thoughts about him we can glean from Deuteronomy’s pages:

  1. God is unique. – God is alone. There are no other gods. There is none like him. “…know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments which I command you today…” (4:39-40a).
  2. God chose Israel. – Israel did not choose God; he chose them. “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord loves you and chose you…but it is because the Lord loves you…” (7:6-8).
  3. God has provided a good land. – The Lord has provided a good land for his people to indwell. “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers…with great and good cities…” (6:10-12).
  4. God faithfully keeps his promises. – Though Israel sinned and was unfaithful, God remained faithful. “See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers…to give to them and to their offspring after them” (1:8).
  5. God has power to defeat enemies. – God defeated Israel’s enemies, specifically kings Og and Sihon. He will defeat his and his people’s enemies again.
  6. God is a jealous God and institutes proper worship while warning against idolatry. – The Lord is a jealous God. He desires the worship of his people. He will not stand back and allow them to give it to another. “And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God” (8:19-20).
  7. God’s Law is comprehensive and effects all of our lives. – God cares about every aspect of our being and our lives. There is nothing in the world that God doesn’t care about, and nothing he doesn’t desire to be under his control. There are no aspects of our lives in which we get a pass. Think on this fact when reading chapters 12-27.
  8. God exhorts his people to love, serve, fear, and obey him. – The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (6:5).
  9. God is permanent. – Leaders come and go. Life changes. Life goes on. However, God remains the same. He is the constant. Moses died, but God remained (33-34).

 

 

 

 

Numbers and the Question: Will I be Faithful to the End?

The fourth book of the Bible is Numbers. And, as its title suggests the book contains a lot of numbers. Two censuses of Israel’s population are taken and then seemingly countless other lists of a variety of things are recorded. But, is that really what the book is about? Is the book of Numbers really a compilation of technical lists? No. The book is a continuation of Israel’s history as the book’s Hebrew title – “In the wilderness” – communicates. This artistic and pictorial phrase sums the entire setting of the book. The Israelites move from Sinai into the wilderness of the Paran, up to Kadesh, and then through to the plains of Moab. Through the story of this geographic wandering, Numbers narrates the transition from the old generation of Israelites that left Egypt in the Exodus and sinned in the wilderness to the new generation that stands on the brink of the Promised Land. It presents us with a vision of new beginnings and hope.

A Purposeful Story Full of Truths

To adequately understand this book, we must remember the context in which it was written. It was recorded as the Israelites camped in the plains of Moab preparing to enter the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The first generation of Israelites who had experienced firsthand the delivering power of God in the Exodus had died out as a result of their disobedience. The second generation of Israelites who had simply heard the stories God’s gracious deliverance were preparing to enter the Promised Land by the command of God with his promise of victory. Therefore, Numbers serves to call these second-generation Israelites to serve God as his holy arm in the conquest of the Promised Land and to avoid the failures of the previous generation by remaining faithful to God directives.

This story, then, reveals three main truths from which this second generation would have benefited. These truths are:

  1. God fully prepared his people to serve him and to succeed in the conquest of the Promised Land.
  2. The members of the first generation failed to succeed because they were ungrateful for the grace God had shown them and feared the power of the Canaanites.
  3. God raised up another generation for the conquest of the Promised Land, but they also had to remain faithful to the Lord in order to succeed.[1]

One Story in Two Parts 

Numbers is a story with two parts. The first is about the generation of Israelites who rebelled against God and ultimately died under the judgment of God without seeing the Promised Land. And, part 2 is about the second generation of Israelites as God prepares them to enter the Promised Land, complete with promises of victory and his expectations of their holiness. The dividing line between the two parts is found between chapters 25 and 26. Chapter 25 ends with the Israelites contracting a plague that resulted from their continued idolatry, their worship of Baal at Peor, and their sexual impurity with Moabite women, which defiled Israel in God’s eyes. But, chapter 26 begins with a new beginning, a census of the second generation. At this time Israel was purged of the rebellious men and women of the first generation by God’s gracious judgment.

Does Numbers Prepare Us for the New Testament and Jesus? Yes.

 Numbers carries on the themes seen throughout the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible. Three of them are:

  1. God Never Gives Up.

The first generation of the Israelites rebelled against God, the God who had miraculously delivered them from Egyptian slavery. This could have led to the end of redemption history. God certainly would have been justified if he had he simply destroyed his people. But, as he showed with Adam and Eve and countless others, he refuses to abandon his people even in their rebellion and sin. He loves them and seeks them out to restore them in his grace. The principle character of the book of Numbers is the same principle character of the rest of the Bible – the Lord God himself. He keeps his covenant with his people, guides them through the wilderness, continues to provide for them, and remains personally involved in their covenant life because of his covenant love for them. This is but a foretaste of the way in which he will seek out his people in the Lord Jesus Christ. He not only does not abandon his children; he provides hope for them in the salvation offered by the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. Holiness

Numbers continues the theme of holiness that we first encountered in Exodus. God requires his people to maintain holiness. He seeks to dwell with them. Therefore, they must be holy as he is holy in order to interact with him. This is a call for us to be obedient in our faith. God has provided the holy one, Jesus, through whom and in whom we have the blessing of his presence. But the call is to be holy as he is holy in Christ.

  1. The Battle for the Promised Land and the Promised Victory

The Israelites prepared, failed, and then prepared again for the holy war in Canaan. This reminds us of the ultimate battle of the holy war between Heaven and Hell through which Christ will win the new heavens and the new earth. Christ began the last battle with his life, death and resurrection. He continues this battle by the preaching of the gospel and through the church today. And, he will complete the war when he returns. Don’t lose heart. Christ is supreme!

Numbers asks a Final Question 

As we read the last sentence of chapter 36, we notice that the story of Numbers is incomplete. The future of Israel is in question. Will the second generation be faithful and so receive the blessed promises of God? Or, will they follow in their parents’ steps and rebel against God and thus receive his just judgment? That’s a question each follower of Christ has to answer for himself or herself. Will I be faithful to the call?

[1] Reformation Study Bible (NIV).

God’s Character in Exodus 33-35

Friends,

On our (Chester ARP Church’s) journey through the Bible this year, we will read many passages that will clearly and wonderfully reveal the loving, holy, and just character of God. In fact, we believe that every word of the Bible is given to us for that exact purpose. Charles Spurgeon once preached, “from every text in the Bible is a road to Jesus Christ,” and since Jesus is the purest manifestation of God (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:1-2), the Bible, in its entirety, the glory and character of God by telling the story of Jesus.

The passage we read (or, are planning to read) today in Exodus 33-35 is a wonderful example of this truth. As I read it, I was struck by several things it reveals to us about our God. First, he is a forgiving God. You will remember that chapter 33 follows Exodus 32 where we find the story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf they made while Moses was on the top of Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God. Their idolatry angered the Lord, which caused him to prepare to leave them to fend for themselves without his ever-present provision. But Moses interceded with God on their behalf and plead for his forgiveness. God graciously forgave them because he’s a forgiving God.

Second, God is a gracious God. The end of Exodus 34 contains the great story of when Moses asks to see God in his glory. Perhaps, his faith was weak. Perhaps, he needed some encouragement to continue to lead these hard-headed people through the desert and into the Promised Land. Perhaps, he was just curious as to what God’s glory looked like. Whatever his reason was, he asked to see God’s glory and God graciously obliged. Moses’s life was transformed instantly as he saw the glory of God pass before him.

Third, God is an orderly God. Exodus 35 begins a section of the Bible, which continues throughout the whole next book, Leviticus, that tells us of the particular and orderly way in which God prescribed for his Tabernacle to be built and records the meticulous law he gave to the Israelites to govern their lives, their worship, and their morality. We can’t read these chapters without seeing that God is a god of decency and order (1 Corinthians 14:40), who holds his people accountable to a standard of belief, behavior, and worship. In his being, God is a god of order and expects the same from the people who bear his name.

As you read these chapters you may find some other things more applicable to your life than these I’ve mentioned, and that’s ok. There are many lessons we can learn from them as the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and minds while we read. These three aspects about God’s character, however, struck me powerfully this morning.

May the Lord add his blessing to you as you read his word to get to know him more and more fully everyday. Happy Reading.

In Christ,

Clint

Pursue Christ. Elevate Others.