I want to ramble a little about Moses today. Numbers 12:3 sums up what I’m going to talk about: (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth).
Some pretty crazy things go on in the Book of Numbers, things that really don’t seem to line up with the teaching of most American churches today. We all want to stress the grace of God and ignore the holiness of God. What’s the buzz-word? Seeker-friendly? When I went into Mission Santa Barbara I saw an unrestored painting of people burning in The Lake of Fire. The docent there said “I’m glad they haven’t restored that one.”
…Notice the guy in the middle is wearing a bishop’s mitre; that is what makes this painting speak so powerfully. I don’t know why, but I will say it. Jesus is coming soon. Jesus will come down with fire. Everything will burn up. Houses, people, cars; everything on fire.
This news, of course, scares me. The thought of world war, economic collapse, plagues, disasters; they are overwhelming. I want to make it all go away. Many people do. Why am I writing this? I think. I stay away from talking about this with everyone. I feel like King Saul; tall on the outside but small on the inside. So I’m just doing my duty to God, as delineated in Ezekiel 3:16-21:
16 At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 17 “Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. 18 When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. 20
Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”
I’m not here to question God or the Bible. I am just here to wonder what will happen to my life in the midst of this time of signs and wonders. I have a complicated relationship with my God. I want him to come back to remove all the pain and suffering on this earth. When shall I hear the final trumpet sound? But I also want Him to wait until all the people I love accept His salvation. Just give them a little more time!
I am trying to understand the nature of the relationship between God and Moses, because God uses Moses as his exclusive megaphone, and Moses is put into some pretty tight spots as His prophet/middleman. For instance, when a man is found to have gathered firewood on the Sabbath, the people put him in custody (Num. 15:32-36):
Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
The punishment in Exodus 31:15 for breaking Sabbath was to be put to death, so why does it say that “it had not been declared” what should be done? Why would Moses have God reiterate what he had already commanded? I guess this wood-gatherer should have prayed to God that he and his family would survive the night without firewood to stay warm. Certainly Moses wasn’t a coward, but he wanted the people to know that this wasn’t his idea.
In “Balaam’s Error,” the false prophet Balaam informed Moab’s King Balak on how to trap the Israelites into to cursing themselves by enticing them with prostitutes and unclean food sacrificed to idols (Num. 25:1-9):
While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.”
Then behold, one of the sons of Israel [Zimri of the tribe of Simeon] came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman [Cozbi of Zur], in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000.
God then applauds the zeal of Phinehas. But what happened to “Vengence is mine, I will repay, saith the LORD”? certainly this zeal doesn’t line up with what Paul teaches in Romans 12:14-21:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So I’m confused, because the zeal of Phinehas wasn’t enough. God tells Moses first to take a census, and then to muster an army to mite out the LORD’s vengeance on the Midianites. Did Moses go off the deep end, and act on his own? Just like in Eden, the serpent is whispering in my ear to shed doubt on God’s Word. Let’s read further…
When the Israelites kill all the Midianite men (including Balaam) and bring back the women and children, Moses is angry because the army commanders didn’t kill the harlots who enticed them away in the first place. Moses tells them to kill all the POW boys and women, only sparing the virgin girls to divide among them as plunder. Numbers 31:31-35:
Moses and Eleazar the priest did just as the Lord had commanded Moses. Now the booty that remained from the spoil which the men of war had plundered was 675,000 sheep, and 72,000 cattle, and 61,000 donkeys, and of human beings, of the women who had not known man intimately, all the persons were 32,000.
Hm. Another thought creeps into my head… this sounds rather duplicitous, considering the magnitude of their spoils. …Did I mention that they also carried back 16,750 shekels of gold? At 0.364 ozt/shekel, that’s 6,097 ounces of gold. According to the COMEX, gold is trading at $1,348.20/oz., so that amount of gold is worth $8,219,975.40. It’s quite profitable to take the LORD’s vengeance, isn’t it? 32,000 virgins and over eight million dollars in gold. Yes, the deceiver salivates at these thoughts of mine. Lord God, with what evidence shall you quell his whispers?
First: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” Moses certainly wasn’t in this for himself. He never wanted this job in the first place. Many times in Numbers, Moses falls down before the LORD to plead for mercy on behalf of his people, or he asks God to help him with the many complaints and personal issues that they brought before him. He definitely was not a megalomaniac.
Second, when Joshua leads his armies across the Jordan river and destroys Jericho, the Israelites probably remembered the plunder of the Midianites and anticipated the sweet spoils of war. So God told Joshua that everything in Jericho was to be killed and destroyed; no virgins, no livestock, no gold (Joshua 6:17-19):
17 The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the Lord; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it. 19 But all the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.”
Every time I have these thoughts about the motives of God in the Old Testament, He immediately shows the passages of counterbalance. God stays true to his word when Achan, who secretly saves some plunder from Jericho, is found out by casting lots (rolling dice!), he and his family are killed, and his tent and possessions are all burned for his sin.
Many times my kids get in trouble because they hear adults talking in an impertinent tone, and they think they can dish right back to the adults. But there’s an important axiom to heed: what applies to the child does not apply to the parent. The rules are different, because the responsibilities are different. God says vengeance is mine because He alone is without sin. He makes the rules for us, because He is perfect and we are not.
When I think about how uncomfortable Christians today are with Fire and Brimstone, it makes me a little sad because it indicates how cheaply they regard the grace they’ve been given. I don’t need to know the full extent of WHY I deserve just as much wrath as Balaam or Achan, or even Moses who is killed just for striking a rock instead of speaking to it. No, I won’t put myself above God’s judgment but just thank Him for offering me His only Son as payment in full for my due penalty. And while under this grace, I will do my best to fear the Lord and respect his holiness as my master, lord, and savior.