Sunday, September 09, 2007

Matt's Messages - Summing Up Numbers

“Summing Up Numbers”
Life in the Wilderness
September 9, 2007
Numbers 30:1-36:13

As I’ve been praying and thinking about what our church needs right now in our spiritual diet from the feast of God’s Word, I’ve become convinced that we should rapidly end our study of Numbers and move on to something else.

I think that you’ll agree that we’ve found Numbers to be an amazing book. Perhaps the strangest book of the Bible that we’ve studied so far. It’s been full of numbers! Numbers of people, numbers of clans, numbers of sacrifices, numbers of disappoints, numbers of times that God has come through for His people.

We’ve experienced together a taste of “Life in the Wilderness,” living in that place between God’s Rescue and the Promised Land.

As I said the first Sunday of this series, way back on January 7th, we have studied the book of Numbers because it is Holy Scripture. Numbers is God’s Word to us. And I think we’ve heard from Him again and again as we’ve learned about the censuses, the concentric circles of holiness in the camp, the blessings of the LORD, the Retreat of Unbelief, the battle with Baalam, the dangers of complaining and envy and disobedience, and the blessings of purity, obedience, and zeal.

I told you on January 7th, that preaching the book of Numbers is my gift to you. I desire greatly that our little church would know the Big Picture of the Bible. That everyone from our smallest children to our most senior saints would know the Big Story of Genesis through Revelation. And so, on odd numbered years, I’ve planned to take us through the foundation books of the Old Testament that carry that story through. Genesis in 2003, Exodus in 2005, and Numbers in 2007.

Not only is this a great book, but preaching it has been an opportunity for me to give you a great gift. Few people have ever heard a sermon on Numbers, much less been taught the entire book. I love you and wanted you to have that gift.

And the third reason I told you back in January why we took on book of Numbers, is that Jesus is here in Numbers. And we’ve seen Him every week.

His name is not here, but there are signposts in every chapter. Numbers is a part of God’s revelation of His character. And Jesus is the fullest revelation of God. “Every story whispers His name.”

And I think that today, God is calling us to “sum up” the book of Numbers and finish our slow trek through its pages. This is the 24th sermon in Numbers, and I think it should be our last for this series. “Summing Up Numbers”

I’m going to do the preaching a little differently today, I’m not going to read all of the verses. If I did, it would take the whole time. In fact, I’m going summarize a lot here so that we can cover 7 chapters in one sermon.

And as we go through these last summary chapters, I want to point out 5 things we can see about God in them. They are 5 things that we’ve seen all along in the book about God. Because God is the Main Character in the book of Numbers. And each of these facets of God’s character call for a personal response. So that will be our application as we sum up the book of Numbers.


Pop quiz! I’m sure you expected it on the last day of Numbers!

Where are the people of Israel right now?

Are they in the Promised Land? No they are not.

Where are they? They are parked on the plains of Moab, right across from the Promised Land, right across the Jordan River, right across from the city of Jericho.

And the last several chapters of the book of Numbers are concerned with getting the people of Israel ready to cross over, conquer, inherit, and possess the Promised Land.

They have offspring, they have blessing, they will soon have land.

Last week, we saw that chapters 28 and 29 got the people ready for sacrifices on Holy Days in the Promised Land. It laid out the Holy Calendar for the people of God.

In chapter 30, God is getting them ready for the Land by explaining the laws concerning vows.

Vows were religious promises made, and they should be kept. Chapter 30, verse 1.

“Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: ‘This is what the LORD commands: When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”

Often, a man would tell the Lord, that if the Lord would give him some success in some endeavor, then that man would vow to offer a certain sacrifice or set of sacrifices in thanksgiving. This never obligated God, but it did obligate the man.

And he should keep his obligation.

But the chapter then goes on to explain what would happen if a woman made a vow. What if a woman wanted to promise God something if He did something for her?

Chapter 30 teaches through various situations that a woman could make a vow, but if she was a minor still in her father’s home or an engaged woman, or a married woman under the headship of her husband, if her husband considered the vow hasty or rash, he could nullify it. And that would be a protection for their family.

I used to think that this chapter was unfair. That women were treated as less than equal with their husbands. But I now see that this chapter is about protecting women who were in a difficult place in the social setting of the ancient Near East. V.8 and v.15 use the words “rash promise” and “responsible for guilt.”

This is about protecting a young woman or a wife from the consequences and obligations of a bad decision.

If it is unfair, it is unfair to the man. Because men make rash vows, too! But they would have to keep each one. That’s part of the responsibility of headship.

Remember headship? I preached on the biblical teaching on headship almost a year ago today. Husbands are called to lead, provide, and protect their wives. They are called to a greater level of responsibility for the women in their lives.

And here’s why. It’s point #1. In “Summing up Numbers,” we find a GOD WHO CARES.

God cares about His people. Especially those people who are weak or oppressed or in difficult situations.

We’ve seen this again and again in the book of Numbers. Here it is women. In earlier chapters it was hungry Israelites, it was unclean Israelites, it was thirsty Israelites, it was attacked Israelites. It was Zelophehad’s orphaned daughters. He took care of them all.

God cares about His people. Especially His people in weak situations.

Do you need to hear that today? It jumped off the pages to me this week as I was studying this.

I’ve always turned my nose up at Numbers chapter 30 as old-news that might even put down women. But I saw this week that God wanted, as they went into the Land, that His men provide protection for His women.

Because God cares. Do you need to know that God cares? 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Cast your cares on Him.

But that’s not all that God is.

Some people would like to think of God as caring, yes, but not as wrathful.

But the very next chapter shows us His perfect justice.

We see in chapters 31 and 32, (#2) A GOD WHO JUDGES.

In chapter 31, God calls for a holy war. Look at chapter 31, verse 1.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.’”

This is Moses’ last military assignment. He is supposed to take vengeance on the Midianites.

Why? Remember Baalam in chapters 22 through 24? The Midianites were in on that.

And they really in on the sneak attack on Israel in chapter 25. That’s when the women of Midian and Moab snuck in and seduced Israel so that they were almost destroyed from inside. Remember that?

If it wasn’t for zealous Phinehas, Israel would have been destroyed.

And now God is telling Moses that Midian’s time is up. They need to bring judgment.

This isn’t a personal vendetta. This it the LORD’s perfect justice in the LORD’s perfect time.

So they put together a crack team of 12,000 soldiers, one thousand from each tribe. Led by zealous Phinehas. And they fought the Midianites.

And God, because He is just, gave them victory. Overwhelming victory with amazing spoils and (catch this!) no casualties on the Israelite side (chapter 31, verse 49)!

They succeeded in killing the five kings of Midian, including Cozbi’s evil father, Zur (Chapter 31, verse 8).

And they also caught the Osama bin Laden of their day–Baalam son of Beor and brought God’s justice to him.

We don’t understand Holy War because we don’t live in Old Testament times. There will be no more legitimate holy war until Christ returns and wages the Last Battle.

But this kind of war was a demonstration of the perfect justice of God.

They had attacked God’s people, they would get God’s vengeance.

Now, that’s a scarey thing. But it’s also a wonderful truth.

God will see that justice is done. He doesn’t always do it on our time-table (in fact, He seldom does, especially because He is so patient and gracious!). But He will see that perfect justice is done.

We’ve seen that over and over again in the book of Numbers. God’s discipline and judgment. Forty years of wilderness wanderings. An entire generation of Israelites dead in the desert.

God takes sin seriously.

In this story, they had spared the women. And normally, God wants that to happen.

But in the case of the Midianites, it was the wicked women who had infiltrated Israel with their seduction, so everyone woman who had slept with a man had to be executed.

We think that is harsh, but in that day, it was a mercy to Israel, or they would have been trapped again.

And God is just. He sees to it that justice is done. That is what is for. And though it is a terrible thing to think about it, think about it, we must!

In chapter 32, it looked like the Retreat of Unbelief was going to happen again.

The leaders of the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh came to Moses and asked if they could settle on this side of the Jordan river. (Verses 1 through 5).

Was that in the Promised Land? No. Israel had conquered it, and it was a great fertile place for the flocks and herds of these tribes, but it wasn’t in the promised land.

And Moses got scared and mad that it was all happening again. They had said (v.5), “Don’t make us cross the Jordan.”

And Moses said, “This is what your fathers did!” (V.8)

And he recounts the trouble they had over the Retreat of Unbelief and promises them more of the same.

But these leaders had a different plan in mind. They wanted the Transjordan land, but they were only going to leave behind their flocks and herds and families.

The soldiers all had faith to go into Canaan and fight until it was all theirs.

Well, that was okay then. So Moses says, (v.20), “If you will do this–if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for battle, and if all of you will go armed over the Jordan before the LORD until he has driven his enemies out before him–then when the land is subdued before the LORD, you may return and be free from your obligation to the LORD and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the LORD. But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

God takes sin seriously. God is a God who judges.

“You may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

Don’t think that your sin is a secret from God.

It is not a secret. Your life and heart are laid open before His eyes.

And He sees your sin. Repent now while you still can.

“You may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

Your sin is not only not a secret, but it will be the very thing that finds you out and turns you in.

On the day of reckoning, which is coming for each of us and all of us, we will have to give an account for all of the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.

Turn now. Repent now. While you still can.

The LORD is not just a God who cares.

He is a God who judges.

And He is also, thankfully, a (#3) GOD WHO GUIDES.

Chapter 33 is a long list of camp-sites.

Look at verses 1 and 2: “Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the LORD's command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages:”

And then he lists 40 different spots where Israel camped between Egypt and Jericho.

And I think the main point here is that God led them every step of the way.

In verse 50, He gives them their marching orders for the next “Big Story” book of the Bible, Joshua. V.50

“On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides [OUCH!]. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.'”

Those are the marching orders from the Commander in Chief.

And just as God has led them from verse 1 to verse 49, He is promising to guide them into the Promised Land and give them victory.

But they have to follow.

God is God Who Guides, but we have to follow Him.

Do you need to hear that message this morning?

God Is God Who Guides, but We Have to Follow Him.

Israel will be so tempted to follow other gods for the next several hundred years.

They will go into the Land, but they will not do verse 52 very well.

“Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.”

Instead, in a reoccurring spiral, they followed those other gods. And they were barbs in their eyes and thorns in their sides.

God Is God Who Guides, but We Have to Follow Him.

And that means repentance, too.

Remember, 2 weeks ago, when I said that disciples of Jesus follow Jesus.

It sounds like a truism, but it is so often true, that we follow after other gods.

But God is God who Guides! As I’ve reported before many times from this pulpit, I’ve struggled with the idol of gluttony (“their god is their stomach”).

But this year, I’ve been able in a new way to follow God by faith. I’ve lost 17 pounds since mid-June, and the main reason is because of a restoration of right worship in my heart of hearts.

Praise God! God guides. And we just need to follow Him.

In chapter 34, we see another facet of the character of God–probably, the most important theme in the whole book: God’s faithfulness to His promises.


God always keeps His promises. Right? That’s the theme of Genesis and it’s the theme of the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

God always keeps His promises.

In chapter 34, it’s the promise of the Promised Land.

The entire chapter is a description of the borders of Canaan. Verses 1 through 15 lay out North, South, East, and West. And then verses 16 through 29 give us the new names of the tribal leaders who will lead their clans into their inheritance.

You can almost taste it! The land is almost theirs!

They are ready to go. It’s going to happen.

God will fulfill His promises to His people.

It doesn’t always happen like we think it will.

Strangely enough, Israel never has had these exact borders yet. Even under David or Solomon.

But we know that God will fulfill His promises.

And one day, God’s King will rule all of this land described in Numbers 34, and in fact, there will be no borderline to describe the end of His Kingdom!

God will fulfill His promises.

Do you need to hear that this morning?

I love that new song we learned today, “Blessed Be Your Name.”

The reason I love it, is not the beat or the tune, though they are very catchy.

I love it because it handles a part of the Christian experience that we don’t often sing about, but often have to live.

Not praising God in the good times, but praising God like Job did in the bad times, and like Israel was supposed to in the wilderness times–Blessed Be Your Name!

“When the darkness closes in Lord, still I will say, ‘Blessed Be Your Name!’”

How can we be people like that in the dark times?

It’s because of the Lord’s promises!

He has given us “great and precious promises!” And we can take each and every one to bank.

Even when it doesn’t seem like they could ever come true.

Especially (!) when it doesn’t seem like they could ever come true.

We need to trust His promises.

Because the God of Numbers is a God Who Fulfills.

In the last chapter, chapter 36, the daughters of Zelophehad show up again.

They are still trusting God’s promises for their inheritance in the land. But there is a dispute over what would happen if they married outside of their clan. What would happen to their land then? Would it leave their clan. The answer is given that they can’t marry outside of the clan or they would lose their land.

What do you think they did? They married in their clan! Why?

Because they believed in God’s promises for this land.

Israel is poised to go in and possess it.

The men’s Sunday School class this Fall is going to pick up right here on this side of the Jordan and then study the book of Joshua and see how God fulfills His promises.

What promises have God made to you? Do you know?

You can trust them. You can trust Him. He always keeps them. Every time.

But that’s not all. I have one more.

God is not just a God Who Cares (though He does, cast your cares on Him).
Not just a God Who Judges (though He does, repent now or your sin will find you out).
God is not just a God Who Guides (though He does, and we must follow).
And God is not just a God Who Fulfills (though He does, and we can trust Him).

But God is also a (#5) GOD WHO FORGIVES.

In Numbers chapter 35, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to create forty-eight cities for the Levites. And six of those cities are to be what He calls, (chapter 35, verse 13), “cities of refuge.”

These are special cities where a man can a flee to if he unintentionally sins and kills someone else.

The chapter makes it clear that if he is a murderer (established by 2 or 3 witnesses), then he must be executed for his crime, if they didn’t they would pollute the land (which I think says something to us about capital punishment).

But if he didn’t mean to do it (and there are a lot of examples to show how that could be, involuntary manslaughter), then he could run into one of these cities of refuge and be safe from the avenger of blood.

You see in this time, if one of your family members was killed, it was the duty of another family member to make sure that justice was carried out. That family member was the “avenger of blood.” And he would chase the killer all the way to limits of the city of refuge.

If he found him outside the city, he could dispense justice.

But if he made it inside and was not guilty of murder, he could live.

He had to live in that city of refuge until the death of the high priest who was serving when the killing happened.

After that, he could go free. He was forgiven.

The cities of refuge were a place for grace.

Does that remind you of anything?

It makes me think of the Cross. Remember, Jesus is in Numbers.

Of course, Jesus is much greater than a city of refuge. You can run to Him even if you are a murderer!

But He is the place of grace now.

He is the place where forgiveness happens. Not just vengeance, but forgiveness!

Have you been scared today that your sins will find you out?

Run to Jesus!

In your heart and with your mouth, turn from your sins and trust in the Savior and you will be forgiven! Run to Jesus!

Because our Great High Priest Jesus died! And with His death, forgiveness has been poured out on those who turn from their sins and trust in Him!

The God of Numbers is a God of grace.

He is a God of wrath. But He is also full of forgiveness for those who trust in Him.

Run to Jesus.

God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish (like they deserve) but have everlasting life!

Run to Jesus.