THE NEW BIRTH or REGENERATION [10/15/21]

Conversion or the new birth, and regeneration, are one and the same. Conversion is the act of turning from sin to Christ; and regeneration is to be made a new human being by the power of The Holy Spirit. The New birth or Regeneration is the means that brings us into the family of God and the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is the door to salvation and to a heavenly home. The one and only way to become a Christian is to be born again by the power of The Holy Spirit <see Jn.3:3; 14:6>. Regeneration is the creation of a new life in a person, and is referred to as “a new creation”, it is an event and not a process, it occurs in a second as the individual passes from the darkness of sin to the light of the gospel.

What does it mean to be “born again”? If a search is done on the internet there will be many links on the subject; movies, games, religious movements, and many others. But the important question is: Who needs to be born again? Biblically, the Scriptures teach that every individual on this earth needs to be born again. The next question will be: Why do I need to be born again? The answer to this question will depend upon the individual that asks the question, their life situation, their lifestyle and so on; but the real reason is that the Scriptures teach that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” <Rom.3:23 (NIV)>; and the result of this condition is: “the wages of sin is death” <Rom.6:23 (NIV)>; the Law of God demands the death of the sinner; in this life this death is experienced as a total disregard for God and a life of rebellion against God, and after death it is a total separation from God, His heaven and His kingdom. This type of lifestyle leads each individual to seek spiritual satisfaction in everything that life has to offer except that which is of God. “Oscar-winning actor Gary Busey has starred in over 60 films, including such hits as Lethal Weapon and The Firm, but Busey’s off-screen party-boy reputation and arrest record is center stage. After attending a Promise Keepers conference, his life changed dramatically. When asked if he thought about God when he was sinking into depravity, Busey states: “Of course not. There’s no way to think about God. There’s no reason to . . . ’cause your number-one relationship is with the dark side of you. . .. I learned that addiction is a failed search for spirituality.”” (Perfect Illustrations – Citation: ADDICTION-Melissa Park; Des Plaines, Illinois; source: The 700 Club, CBN). This type of lifestyle is repeated many times each day by other individuals searching for spiritually; but there are those that live a so called “clean lifestyle”; they never become involved with drugs or criminal offences, they are the faithful church attendees and social “good workers” always citing their good works as their ticket to heaven; but this is not what God requires. Christ said this to Nicodemus; “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”” <Jn.3:3 (NIV)>. Later on, in His teaching Christ also said: ““I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” <Jn.14:6 (NIV)>, indicating that there is only one way to be born again which is through acceptance of His sacrificial death and resurrection, and there are no exceptions or substitutions to this.

“Isn’t it grossly arrogant for Christians to claim Jesus is the one and only way to God? Why do Christians think they’re justified in asserting that they’re right and that everybody else in the world is wrong?” [Source: Lee Strobel – The Case For Faith; Objection #5: There’s Only One Way to God.] Without delving into too much of the details of this article by Lee Strobel, let us examine the source of this statement: the claim is not made by Christians, the claim has been made by Jesus Christ Himself, Christians are only repeating the claim as the gospel message is shared; so, I will end this quotation by another of Strobel’s statements: “But sometimes it’s not the manner in which the Christians try to spread their faith that’s offensive. Sometimes people are simply reacting to the message itself.” When one desires to enter and reside in the home of a neighbour or some important citizen, such entrance must be at the home-owner’s decree. Thus, entrance to God’s dwelling must be at God’s decree.

The fact is that there is nothing that any individual can personally do to be born again <see Gal.6:15; Jer.13:23; 17:9>. The universal sinful condition of mankind demands a new birth, and the holiness of God demands that all be born again <Heb.12:14>; such holiness is foreign to the sinful individual and can only be attained through the new birth; to live the life that God expects we must have the new nature of God within us – God’s own holy nature.

The New Birth (Regeneration) is not baptism. Baptism is simply a Church ordinance signifying that the individual is a Christian who identifies with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and wishes to live a Christ directed life. Neither is the New Birth a reformation; for reformation is the act of turning from certain evils while regeneration is the supernatural act of God, it is a complete turning about-face from all evil. Previously stated, all humankind have been born with the sin-nature, and there is nothing that we can do to alter or reform the old sinful nature, so there has to be a spiritual rebirth – a new creation; we need God’s Holy Nature within us; our first birth was physical, our second birth is spiritual: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world” <Eph.2:1-2; (NIV)>; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” <2 Cor.5:17 (NIV)>.

How then, is the New Birth accomplished? First, one hears and responds to the Word of God <see Jas.1:18; 1 Pet.1:23; Gal.3:2>; the New Birth is faith created – by hearing and acknowledging the Word of God. Secondly, The Holy Spirit convicts and then converts the individual, which is the act of bringing the individual into the kingdom of God, spiritual life is precipitated by the Holy Spirit <see Jn.3:5-6, 8>. Regeneration is a creative act of God and not a reformative act of mankind; God is the source, Christ is the means, the administrator is the Holy Spirit, and the method is by believing the Word of God and receiving Christ as Saviour: “He [Christ] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” <Jn.1:11-13 (NIV); see Rom.1:16; 1 Pet.1:25>.

The New Birth is evidenced in the life of the believer by the fact that the person who is born again endeavors to live a righteous life, since the new nature of God within us cannot sin <1 Jn.2:29; 3:9; 5:18a>. The individual will also make every effort to fulfill Christ’s command to love <Lk.10:27; Jn.13:34-35; 1 Jn.4:7>; and most important, believes that Jesus is the Christ <1 Jn.5:1a>. Thus, the New Life exhibits a change in attitude, mind and actions; sin is hated and Christ is loved; a total change of life!

Therefore, without Regeneration; “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”” <Jn.3:3 (NIV)>, which means that the New Life is required for all who expect and desire to entre God’s heaven; and those who have accepted Christ’s invitation through The Word of God are a “new creation” and will enter God’s heaven for this is Christ’s promise and our hope: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” <2 Cor.5:17 (NIV)>; “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” <Jn.14:2-3 (NIV)>.

There are many who live and die in this world who have not experienced the New Birth, they die with no hope: “Philip Yancey describes a unique funeral custom conducted by African Muslims. Close family and friends circle the casket and quietly gaze at the corpse. No singing. No flowers. No tears. A peppermint candy is passed to everyone. At a signal, each one puts the candy in his or her mouth. When the candy is gone, each participant is reminded that life for this person is over. They believe life simply dissolves. No eternal life. No hope.” (Perfect Illustrations – DEATH WITHOUT HOPE Citation: Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Zondervan, 1997); submitted by Van Morris; Mount Washington, Kentucky)

In who or what is your hope? Will your life just dissolve? Do you hope for heaven? You can only attain everlasting life in heaven through the New Birth.

JUSTIFICATION [9/25/21]

Justification is an ongoing effort for every human being since no individual wants to be guilty of some words expressed or action done. There comes the necessity to excuse oneself by making a superficial apology and to walk away from the situation. Self-justification is another way of addressing our guilt but unfortunately our perceptions are distorted, and causes the individual to believe that what was said or done was the best response; unfortunately, the individual is not interested in the truth, only in self-preservation. We see the need for justification in every aspect of life today; in the workplace, on the roads and highways, on the sports fields, it is always someone else’s fault never our own. What then is true justification? Justification is an act of justifying (Justify: to show or prove to be right; to declare innocent or guiltless). It is necessary because we are all guilty of committing some unrighteous act against someone else, but most important, against God, which is the basis of all our unrighteous acts.

Biblically, it is the act of God whereby humankind is absolved of guilt or sin. Justification is not a pardon; in Biblical terms it means to be declared righteous or guiltless; it is the act of God that forgives an individual of the guilt of sin. In the redemption of mankind God must justify the sinner without condoning or justifying the individual’s sin, for God cannot compromise in judgment and deal with sin frivolously since His Law demands the death of the sinful individual; “The soul who sins is the one who will die” <Ezek.18:4 (NIV)>; “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” <Ezek.19:20 (NIV)>.

Since God’s Law demanded the death of the sinner, God cannot and will not justify the guilty, nor can He justify those who pervert His Law <see Ex.23:7; Isa.5:22-23>; nor can He justify those who attempt to justify themselves <Lk.16:15>. It is recorded that those who obey and do what the Law requires will be justified <see Rom.2:13>, but the difficulty we face is that no person can adhere to the law of God perfectly <Jas.2:10> for we all acquire the sinful nature from birth <Psa.51:5; Rom.3:23>. The solution then is by the Infinite Wisdom and the Grace of God, and His solution is that Jesus Christ volunteered to become a human being, live a perfect life according to the Law, and give the righteousness of God as a gift to those individuals who will accept it by faith <see Acts 4:12; 16:31>.

By definition, Justification is being declared righteous before God: the sinner is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and God sees the sinner perfect in the righteousness of Christ <see Rom.4:3, 5>. Justification is the forgiveness of all our sins, our guilt and punishment being removed: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  <Mic.7:18-19 (NIV)>; “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” <Acts 13:38-39 (NIV); see Heb.8:12; Jer.31:31-34>. So, we find that God ascribes (imputes) Christ’s righteousness to the sinner, for this is the only way that God can justify the sinner <see 1 Pet.2:24; 2 Cor.5:21>. In so doing the sinner is then adopted into God’s family, although not being worthy but made worthy through Christ <see Eph.2:13, 19>.

The requirement for the sinner to receive God’ righteousness so as to be justified, is by faith in Christ only; for the scriptures teach that Justification is by Faith; believing in and accepting Christ’s finished work on Calvary’s Cross; “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” <Gal.2:16 (NIV); Rom.3:25-26; 4:5>. So then, Justification is a judicial act performed by God, and He is the only one who can justify the sinner <Rom.8:33>; Justification is granted to the sinner by God’s grace, the source of our Justification <Rom.3:24; Titus 3:7>; by Christ’s shed blood <Rom.5:9>; and by the resurrection of Christ <Rom.4:25>. The scriptures also teach that Justification will be evidenced by “good acts”, and the process should be carefully comprehended. Good works will not justify the sinner, but after justification is granted, the individual should exhibit good works whatever these may be <see Jas.2:21-24>. There are two other results of Justification that are worth consideration. Justification by faith brings about peace with God; no longer is the sinner fearful of God as when living in rebellion against God but now has a clear conscience, a heart of love for God and others, and a mind that is controlled by The Holy Spirit <see Rom.5:1>. Justification also grants access into God’s presence for worship, praise and petitions <see Rom.5:2; Heb.10:19-22>. There is also the trial that faith in God produces and Christ reminded His disciples of this <see Jn.15:18-21; Rom.5:3; 2 Tim.3:12>.

In the significance of all that has been said, where do you stand as far as your Justification is concerned? Are you concerned about thoughts, words expressed or actions in your life that brings about conviction? Do you desire for peace with God and others? Have you been Justified judicially by God, and by Christ? <see Rom.8:33; Isa.53:11> Remember that Biblical Justification is only attainable by Faith in Christ <Rom.5:1>.

THANKFULNESS AND GODLY SERVICE [8/21/21]

Thankfulness to God is primarily expressed in our worship of Him. Our service is directly related to our thankfulness to God. Some people want to serve God but prefer to serve Him “in an advisory capacity”. It is not ours to dictate to God where or how we may serve Him, it is ours to say with the apostle Paul “Lord what will You have me to do?” Believers in Christ, claim the privilege of the “priesthood of all believers” <see 1 Pet.2:5>, yet most fail to understand that with every privilege there comes a responsibility. As members of a local Church, we are all called to be priests who worship and serve God, and as we examine the life and work of a priest as described in the scriptures, we see many parallels between the Old Testament priest and the New Testament priest. The two primary functions of priests are: 1. Worship; 2. Service. An O.T. priest could not take the office of a priest if he was not able and willing to worship God. Likewise, he could not be a priest if he had no intention to serve God.

  1. WORSHIP: What Is Worship? (Quote: A. W. Tozer.) “Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner, a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe, astonished wonder, and overpowering love, in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call “Our Father Which is in Heaven”.

Worship In the Old Testament: is centred around an altar. The first mention of an altar was after the flood when Noah built an Altar and sacrificed clean animals and birds to the Lord <Gen 8:20>. “The altar of worship was Abram’s constant practice, wherever he settled. Abram set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent God had an altar, he instructed his family and servants in the knowledge of the true God.” <Gen.12:6-9> (from Matthew Henry’s Commentary). Prior to the Tabernacle, the head of each family acted as priest and conducted worship for his family and servants. After the Law was given Moses carried out God’s instructions and constructed the Tabernacle, in which all worship was conducted by the family of Aaron and priests called Levites that God had selected, and from that time onward the Jews did not have individual family priests. In the Tabernacle were two altars: (1) the bronze altar that was placed in the courtyard, on which the burnt sacrifices were offered; (2) the altar of incense on which only incense was offered <Ex.30:9>. One of the priests’ duties was to maintain these altars on which sacrifices were offered continually. There were five offerings made on the bronze altar: three voluntary offerings (the BURNT, GRAIN, and FELLOWSHIP offerings); and two mandatory offerings (the SIN offering for unintentional sin, and the GUILT offering for unintentional sin where retribution was required) <Lev.1-7>. Worship consisted of the sacrificial offerings and the singing of Psalms <2 Chron.7:6; 29:27-28>, conducted daily by the priests as well as for the annual feasts days that were required and set out in the Law. Unfortunately, as time progressed the spiritual lives of the people deteriorated, and so went their worship! God spoke through the prophets repeatedly in an attempt to restore the true worship of His people.

HOSEA addressed the deeper meaning of worship: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” <Hos.6:6 (NIV)>

MICAH declared the worship the lord expects: “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” <Micah 6:6-8 (NIV)>

MALACHI declared acceptable worship: “… he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.” <Mal.3:3-4 (NIV)>

Worship In the New Testament: In the N. T., the physical altar of sacrifice has been replaced by the Spiritual altar and spiritual sacrifices. O.T. priests offered animal sacrifices that were pictures or types of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. Since our Lord’s offering was a much better sacrifice than theirs, and His offering is a final and eternal sacrifice, we, as N.T. priests are called to offer Christ to God as a sacrifice of praise in our worship <see Heb.9:11-12; 10:10, 18; 13:15>.

Therefore, as N.T. priests, we are called to offer up “spiritual sacrifices of praise – the fruit of our lips”. In the same way that worship in the O.T. had to be orderly, the N.T. requirement is also for orderly and true worship. Wrong attitudes such as divisions in the body of the local church, cliques, irreverence and self-centeredness, no regard for others or for the Lord Jesus Himself who is the centre of our gathering or coming together, these things cannot be acceptable <1 Cor.11:17-32>. Good attitudes must be exhibited whenever the local church comes together for worship <see 1 Cor.14:26, 40; Eph.5:19-21>. The motivation or driving force for our worship is to be acceptable to God in every way. Gifts of Praise (Matt. 5:24) (Quote: G. C. Morgan) “God seeks and values the offerings we bring Him – gifts of praise, thanksgiving, service, and material offerings. In all such giving at the altar we enter into the highest experiences of fellowship. But the offering is acceptable to God in the measure to which the one who offers it is in fellowship with God in character and conduct; and the test of this is in our relationships with our fellow men. We are thus charged to postpone giving to God until right relationships are established with others. Could the neglect of this be the explanation of the barrenness of our worship?” <see Heb.12:28-29>.

2. SERVICE: Service in the Old Testament was related to the Tabernacle (Temple) <see Num.18:1-7>. “The LORD said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your father’s family are to bear the responsibility for offenses against the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses against the priesthood.” <Num.18:1 (NIV)>. Offence [iniquity] is to violate or transgress; to cause to fall into sinful ways. (Webster’s Dictionary). The priests were to “bear the responsibility for offences against the sanctuary and priesthood”; this meant that they should not violate or transgress God’s rules and regulations for their service. They were to be careful not to fall into sinful ways of service, for if they offended in the office of the priesthood or in their service, the judgement of God would be swift and sure <see Num.18:5-7>. God’s primary rule of service for the priest was that they, and only they, were to serve in the Tabernacle. Anyone else who attempted to do such service, or even to come near to the sanctuary would be put to death. The priest’s service was a lifetime and fulltime job, he was to have no distractions from without that would cause him to fail in his duty to God and the people. Each had his assigned duties and area of service, and each depended on the other, and all worked to the glory of God.

Service in the New Testament is related to our spiritual temple and the service to which we are called. N.T. priests are called to serve in the attitude that our Lord can return at any time. <see Mk.13:34>. As N.T. priests we each have our assigned area of service in relation to our calling and gift, and therefore, we are all dependent upon each other in the Master’s service. When one servant fails in his/her assignment the whole project stalls or fails, and the one at the door may have to announce the sudden return of the Master, and we all have to account to Him for the failure of the job. The Master whom we serve is Lord, and many of us acknowledge Him as Saviour, but few acknowledge Him as Lord. Such “call” Him Lord but fail to do the things He commands them to do – they fail in their service! The reason for our service is more important than the act itself. God who sees the attitude and motive of the heart, and the true purpose of our action, will judge our service. So let us always ask ourselves – “WHY do I serve Him?” and be sure that we do everything for His glory <see 1 Cor.10:31; 4:5>.

Since Christ will examine our service, we should not judge the service of others. Let us be sure that our individual service will stand the scrutiny of the Master, since we will all stand before Him to give our individual account. The importance is not in the amount of work I have done, what is important is the quality and type of work that I have done!  <see 2 Cor.5:10; 1 Cor.3:13-14; Rev.22:12>. Numbers 18:1-7 is applicable here to some degree: “bear the responsibility for offences against the sanctuary and priesthood; we should do nothing to violate God’s standards for our priesthood or service! As a priest there must be evidence of our service. Unfortunately, for some there is no evidence.

The Dead Sea is so salty that it contains no fish or plant life. What accounts for this unusual condition? There are absolutely no outlets! A great volume of water pours into this area, but nothing flows out. Many inlets plus no outlets equal a dead sea. This law of nature may also be applied to the child of God, and it explains why many believers are so unfruitful and lacking in spiritual vitality. It’s possible for some people to attend Bible conferences, listen to religious broadcasts, study the Scriptures, and continually take in the Word as it is preached from the pulpit, and yet seem lifeless and unproductive in their Christian lives. Such individuals are like the Dead Sea. They have several “inlets” but no “outlets.” To be vibrant and useful believers, we must not only “take in” all we can, but we must also “give out” in service to God and to others!  (Source: Our Daily Bread,1996, May 22)

Godly Service therefore is: bearing the responsibility of our office as priest; serving God in expectancy of Christ’s soon return; being able to give a good report to our Master; being willing to “give out” in service to others

CONCLUSION: As priests our journey must begin with the worship of God if we are to experience true Thankfulness and Godly Service. We must, therefore, learn to worship before we can serve effectively, and in order for our worship to be effective and acceptable to God there must be a “purifying of the temple”, as was done by Hezekiah because of the low level of spirituality of God’s people <see 2 Chron.29:3-5>. This account is a parable of the cleansing of the heart meant to be a temple for God. We find that the doors of prayer are closed, the lamps of testimony unlit, the burnt-offerings of self-sacrifice neglected; and, as a result, grass grows thick in courts which should have been trodden by the feet of Levite minstrels engaged in holy song. If ever that song is to break out again, there must be a thorough cleansing and renovation of the inner shrine. If you cannot sing the Lord’s song; then you have gone into the strange land of backsliding. If you acknowledge that for some time now you have taken no delight in God or his service; then the temple is badly in need of renovation. Cleanse the house of the Lord. Bring out all the uncleanness.  By self-examination, confession, and self-denial, be clean of all the refuse that has accumulated through months and years of neglect. Resume the position of complete devotion, a prepared and sanctified servant. Offer the sin-offering for the past, and prepare the burnt-offering of complete consecration for the future. And when that is offered, when you determine to be wholly God’s, lay yourself, with all the interests of your life, at the feet of Jesus, for his disposal; then the song of the Lord will begin again. The music of your life is still, because you are out of accord with the will of God; but when by surrender and consecration there is unison with God, your heart will be filled with songs of worship and praise. And when there is a cleansing of the heart; the lamps of testimony have been re-lit; the burnt offerings of consecration are restored: then the song of praise to God will break-forth from our lips. “Hezekiah gave the order to sacrifice the burnt offering on the altar. As the offering began, singing to the LORD began also, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments of David king of Israel. The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the singers sang and the trumpeters played. All this continued until the sacrifice of the burnt offering was completed.” <2 Chron.29:27-28 (NIV)>

Our service to God will have many variations, sometimes all will go well, but unfortunately there will be the difficult times, and it is at such times that the song of praise may not heard. As we face the battles and the strife, we must be like king Jehoshaphat as he faced an enemy that was “vast”; a large army of Moabites and Ammonites were approaching from Edom, and we read that Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah “came together to seek help from the Lord”. After being encouraged by the Lord, the king and his army faced the enemy, and the enemy was soundly defeated. However, not before they had worshipped and praised the Lord <see 2 Chron.20:1-4, 21-22>.

Do you praise the beauty of His holiness? Do you appreciate holiness as it is presented in our glorious Lord? Can you turn from the noise and anxiety of life’s battle to dwell on the loveliness of God, to live a life devoted to divine worship and service, and to praise Him whose mercy endures forever? This can only be accomplished through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In each of us there should be the priest-side of character as well as the warrior: the love for what is beautiful in holiness as well as for the strong and active in service. The special characteristic of this battle was that the king put the singers in the front of the army, and praised for a victory that was only assured to him by faith. Yet so sure was he of it, that he could praise before he entered into the battle. There is much to help us here in our daily combat for God and truth. Let us be the confident that God is going to bless. So, in all prayer, wait on God till you feel that you can praise Him for what you have asked Him to do.

When the singers began to praise, the Lord did all the rest. Before the attack of Jehoshaphat’s army, the enemy was destroyed. His people had only to gather the spoil, and then the praise that had anticipated the battle was brought to completion as they returned to Jerusalem. We must be confident in the face of our enemy that God is going to bless our service for Him, and never cease to worship and praise God for all He is going to do through us.

The dark and difficult times will come, and there won’t be much desire for gratitude or service; at such times, remember Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah! Let us worship and serve the Lord even when the enemy seems so overwhelming. Let us continue to express our gratitude to Him as we worship Him continually from a “clean temple”. Let us be faithful in our service for the Master! Let there be always true Thankfulness and godly service along the way. True worship will always lead to effective service.

FORBIDDEN PATTERNS [7/24/21]

Israel was now at the end of their forty-year wilderness journey, a journey during which God had instructed them using the many difficulties and hardships that they experienced. He instructed them through Moses as to their conduct in worship, the spiritual structure of their priesthood, the construction of their place of worship. Many lessons were taught and through their many failures God’s instructions were meant to equip them for life in general and for what they were now going to accomplish in the promised land. They are now encamped on the border of the land that God had promised to their fore-father Abraham, a land that was occupied by people who were heathen in nature, who worshipped a variety of false gods; their worship included child sacrifice, perverted worship involving prostitution, ritualistic meals, licentious dancing, all such that were (are) satanic imitations of true worship. So, one of the final instructions from God through Moses is recorded: “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.” <Num.33:50-52 (NIV)>.

Why the instruction to drive out all the inhabitants? God knows that what we see and hear on a regular basis influences us to the extent that we are encouraged to incorporate these beliefs and actions into our lives. Advertisers are well aware of this and we are inundated with repeated messages encouraging us to consider the suggestions. God had set up a specific procedure and practice of worship for His people, one that was godly and spiritually beneficial for His people, any variation or insertion of satanic imitations would be contrary to God’s purposes. A severe warning to believers in Christ! God has called us to be a separate people, followers of Christ that are not to incorporate any worldly imitation into our worship, whether private or corporate <see Jos.23:7; Psa.4:3; Rom.13:12-14; 2 Cor.6:14-18>. God further speaks, through Moses, a warning that if they fail to completely obey His command, they will suffer the consequences: “‘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. 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.'” <Num.33:55-56 (NIV)>; and this warning certainly has an application today in our private, and our corporate worship.

It was unfortunate for the Israelites that under the leadership of Joshua they conquered and drove out only some of the inhabitants of the land, allowing many of the Canaanite tribes to remain in disobedience to God’s command. After Joshua’s death it is recorded: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” <Judg.2:10-13 (NIV); see verses 1-3>. And this began many years of rebellion against God resulting in God’s judgment upon them, and this judgment continued all through their history as the influence of idol worship caused them to turn away from God. Finally, God had to send them into exile as the Babylonians conquered the land that God had given to them.

What then should we learn from this, why is all this history recorded for us? The apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth reminding and warning them of Israel’s history: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” <1 Cor.10:11 (NIV)>. Paul warned them about their idolatry and pagan revelry; he warned them of sexual immorality; of testing The Lord and grumbling <1 Cor.10:7-10>; all of which the Israelites experienced during their wilderness journey. What was Paul’s reasoning? It was that pagan worship is offered to demons! <1 Cor.10:20>, and each and every believer and follower of Christ today must be on guard, not allowing Satanic imitations to be incorporated into our worship whether private or corporate! The Israelites practiced this intermingling during their history while living in the promised land and suffered the consequences of exile. Believers and followers of Christ must understand that although these sins are recorded in the history of the people of Israel, they are still widespread today both in our private and corporate lives. We, therefore, must take note of Paul’s warnings given to the Corinthian believers, and seek the help of The Holy Spirit to keep us faithful to God’s Word and from participation in these sins which would be to our downfall, disgrace and discipline by a Holy God.

It is extremely easy for us to be deceived by Satan into believing that certain practices are allowable because they are attractive and thought engaging to our worship and to those that we are attempting to reach with the Gospel, but we must be careful to remember that “”Everything is permissible”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is constructive.” <1 Cor.10:23 (NIV)>.

TRAINING IS OVER – THE REAL BATTLES BEGIN [6/11/21]

“Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” <Num.22:1 (NIV)>. This was to be their “staging area” from where they would enter and conquer the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. Who were the Moabites, and what or where was the plains of Moab?

Moab was the son of Lot and his eldest daughter <Gen.19:36-38>, and the territory in which the descendants of Moab lived was in three parts: the Land of Moab <Deut.1:5>; the Field of Moab; and the Plains of Moab which was located east of the Jordan River and opposite to the city of Jericho. As descendants of Lot’s son, the Moabites were related to the Israelites, and the Israelites were commanded by God not to “distress” them <see Deut.2:9>, and their land was not given to the Israelites as a possession. The Moabites and Ammonites, both descendants of Lot, were to become bitter enemies of Israel <see 1 Sa.14:47; 2 Chron.20:1> (NIV Study Bible).

For forty years this new generation of Israelites were instructed in godly living through the teaching of Moses and Aaron, and now they are about to put this training into real living. Such is the life of all wilderness travellers, the lessons we learn from God through the Scriptures must be put into practice. We must now identify the imitations and lies of Satan and be able to overcome the sinful life. The Israelites had two more lessons to learn, lessons that we all have to learn even today; lessons that prepared them as they conquered the promised land, that will prepare us for the daily toil of life.

One of the first lessons that each believer in Christ, wilderness travellers, need to learn is that there is nothing or no one that can separate us from the love of God <Rom.8:35-39>; not even Satan, though he hounds us wishing to devour us <1 Pet.5:8>; and although we are wrongly accused and some suffer at the hands of their accusers, Christ intercedes for us <Rom.8:31-34>. It is apparent that in this world, the culture in which we live, many individuals are terrified because of their sinful ways, and because they cannot attack God, the Jews and the Church are hated and persecuted; and we see this displayed in the attitude of the Moabites toward Israel. “Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.” <Num.22:3 (NIV)>; the Moabites had seen and heard of the Israelite defeat of the Amorites as well as other of the surrounding cities, and knowing that they were unable to defend themselves, Balak the king of Moab sent messengers to summon Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites <Num.22:4-6>. The word “curse” as used in this context is a prediction of misfortune, trouble, ordeal or tribulation. “These divine maledictions (curses) are not merely imprecations (curses), nor the expressions of impotent wishes; but they carry their effects with them, and are intended with all the miseries they denounce of foretell” (from Unger’s Bible Dictionary). This was a common practice in O.T. times and still is used in some cultures today. Who was Balaam, and what was his mission? Balaam was a heathen spiritualist who possessed some knowledge of the true God; he was very famous and became arrogant and covetous. The clue to his real character and motives is given to us in three N.T. passages: <Jude 11> speaks to his “error” – the error of consuming greed; in <2 Pet.2:15-16> we see his covetous conduct; and <Rev.2:14> speaks of “the teaching of Balaam” which is to abandon godly separation and a pilgrim character in favour of worldly conformity <see James 4:4> (from Unger’s Bible Dictionary). As we have seen previously it is only Christ that can truly condemn or curse, so Balaam was instructed by God to go with the men sent by Balak “but do only what I (God) tell you.” <Num.22:20 (NIV)>

As the narrative continues, we see that God used Balaam’s donkey to reveal His opposition to Balaam’s response to Balak’s invitation <Num.22:21-30>: three times the donkey sees the angel of God and tries to go off the path and finally God allows Balaam to see the angel; “Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.” <Num.22:31 (NIV)>. God tells Balaam that he is on a reckless path and reminds him again that he can only say what God tells him to say, he cannot curse Israel, he can only bless them. Balaam then offers four predictions in relation to the nation of Israel. In his first prediction he expresses: “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” <Num.23:8 (NIV)>; he must speak what God has told him. God’s message in his second prediction is: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, 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. “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel.  The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.” <Num.23:19-21 (NIV)>. In his third prediction he understands that God will not allow him to predict a curse and it is recorded that God’s Spirit came upon him and he now sees clearly and hears the words of God and sees a vision of the Almighty causing him to bless Israel with the words first spoken to Abraham by God; “May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” <Num.24:9 (NIV); cf Gen.12:2-3>. His fourth prediction was to a future event in the history of the nation of Israel that involved the birth of the Messiah: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.” <Num.24:17-19 (NIV)>. In his final prediction he speaks of the demise of Amalek, the first enemy to attack the Israelites in opposition to God’s purpose for His people <see Ex.17:8-15>. In all this we see that when God saves an individual there is no longer any condemnation to that individual, or people, and therefore will be guarded by the divine power of God <Rom.8:1, 31>, a lesson to be learned and understood by every wilderness traveller.

The second lesson to be understood by every wilderness traveller is one of great importance. When Satan finds that a believer in Christ is securely defended by God’s Spirit and that he cannot curse the individual or group of individuals, he then attacks from a different perspective; he arouses the old nature within us especially our sexual desires. We are exposed to this type of temptation is virtually everything in the world today, and certainly it has crept into the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ in His letter to the Church at Pergamum says: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” <Rev.2:14 (NIV)>, and we need to be on guard for Satan’s attempts to cause us to fall for the temptation introduced to the Israelites while they were encamped at Moab. “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 and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.” <Num.25:1-3 (NIV)>. This type of behaviour is prevalent in our society today, as it was then, being displayed and practiced without any embarrassment, and unfortunately being introduced into the worship of the Church in some form. God’s people the Israelites were warned several times throughout their history, before and after they conquered the land, that they were to separate themselves from the ungodly inhabitants because of this very sinful indulgence; unfortunately, they did not obey God’s command, allowing some of the inhabitants to live among them and eventually they fell for Balaam’s teaching to abandon godly separation and a pilgrim character in favour of worldly conformity. This, among other sinful practices, led to their downfall and eventual exile from the land that God had given them. Today every believer in Christ is called to the same separated lifestyle, we are not to attempt joining with the ungodly especially to the extent of incorporating their lifestyle in our worship of God <see 2 Cor.6:14-18; cf 1 Cor.6:12-20; Eph.5:15-18>.  

These two lessons were the last given under the leadership of Moses; Moses died here in the wilderness and Joshua took over as leader, crossing the Jordan River and conquering the land promised to Israel. How well did they learn and practice what they were taught? How are you doing fellow wilderness traveller?

A NEW GENERATION – THE SAME CHALLENGES [5/21/21]

On the night of their exodus from Egypt, it is recorded that there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children <Ex.12:37>. However, there were others that joined the exodus: “Many other people went up with them” <Ex.12:38 (NIV); cf 9:20>, and the belief is that these Egyptians caused much of the problems for Moses and Aaron. If that is the reason, it was not an excuse for the Israelites to join in their disbelief; and whether or not, there was a major rebellion at Kadesh-barnea that brought God’s judgment upon the people, the result was, all who were adults at that time would not enter the promised land, the whole assembly were destined to wander in the desert for forty more years <see Num.14:26-35>.

The greater part of their wanderings during the forty years, except for a few events, is not recorded; a full description of the encampments are listed for our reading in Numbers 33; and it is apparent that their wanderings took many circles that eventually brought them back to Kadesh (NIV Study Bible).

The beginning of their fortieth year is recorded: “In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh.” <Num.20:1 (NIV)>, this can be verified by comparing the record: “They left Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the border of Edom. At the Lord’s command Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor, where he died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.” <Num.33:37-38 (NIV); cf 20:22-28>; and following this, other events are recorded for the rest of the 40th year, including the death and burial of Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron <1 Chr.6:3>.

The new generation of Israelites are now faced with a similar problem that faced their parents when they began their wilderness journey; “Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”” <Num.20:2-5 (NIV); cf Ex.17:1-3>. On the first occasion God instructed Moses to strike the rock with his staff, but here God’s instruction to Moses was for him to speak to the rock <Num.20:7-8>; instead, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff and water flowed from the rock <cf 1 Cor.10:3-4; Heb.10:12-14>; these scriptures compare to the O.T. references and teach that Christ, who is ‘The Rock’, suffered once and will never suffer God’s judgment again! In his action we see that Moses sinned against God to the extent that both himself and Aaron, who assisted him, were not permitted to enter the promised land; “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”” <Num.20:12 (NIV); 20:22-29>; the nature of Moses’ offence is not clear from the text but it is apparent from God’s statement that both Moses and Aaron failed to trust God that speaking to the rock was sufficient, and by Moses’ impulsive action in striking the rock twice, God’s holiness was not honoured in the presence of the people. For any servant of God in a leadership position, and faced with difficult decisions and severe criticism, extreme care is required that no harsh words or actions are expressed!

 The new generation of Israelites now face their first challenge; “When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them.” <Num.21:1 (NIV)>; and the Israelites make their first request to God that these people would be delivered into their hands, if God would honour their request, they would totally destroy the people and the city of Arad. God honoured their request and “They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.” <Num.21:3 (NIV)>. Following this encounter, they travelled along the route to the Red Sea so as to bypass Edom, for the Edomites had refused to allow the Israelites to pass through their territory <see Num.20:20>, which caused the people to become impatient with Moses and with God for not allowing them to engage Edom in battle. This exhibited their self-confidence seeing that they had just defeated Arad, not acknowledging that it was God who had given them the victory; leading them to further sin against God by rejecting God’s provisions for them: “they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”” <Num.21:5 (NIV)>. This brought about God’s judgment upon His people by Him sending venomous snakes into their camp and many people died. Upon their confession of sin God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and those that looked at the bronze snake would live <Num.21:9>.

Following this event, the Israelites now resume their journey towards Moab camping in various places along the route and finally arrive in the valley in Moab in the shadow of Mt. Pisgah, where they face another battle. Sihon, king of the Amorites refused Israel passage through his territory, there is a battle, and Sihon and the Amorites are defeated. Og, king of Bashan is also defeated by the Israelites, and they take possession of his territory.

There are three scriptural truths that are evident from these encounters. First, Jesus Christ “The Rock” <1 Cor.10:4> was (struck) as a sacrifice for our sins “once” by God and never will be struck again <Heb.10:10>. Christ sacrifice for sins was the end to the Aaronic priesthood and sacrificial system set up through Moses <see Heb.10:12-13; cf Rom.4:25-5:1>. Secondly, the bronze snake that Moses set up in the Israelite Camp represented the work of Christ in the redemption of the sin of all peoples <see Jn.3:14-15>. Finally, we should never reject the grace of God that He has offered to us in His salvation, for this is what the Israelites did when they rejected the heavenly manna that God had provided for them <Num.21:5; cf Jn.6:32-35, 48-51, 58>. We need to do what the Israelites did; “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord” <Num.21:7 (NIV)>; we need to acknowledge our sinfulness and seek God’s forgiveness: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” <1 Jn.1:8-2:2 (NIV)>.

DISSENSION TO THE ESTABLISHED ORDER [4/20/21]

“Korah …. and certain Reubenites – Dathan and Abiram …. and On ……. — became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders ……They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far!…… Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”” <Num.16:1-3 (NIV)>

Korah was a descendant of Levi; the Kohathites had been given specific duties serving the Lord in the Tabernacle <Num.4:1-20>; they were to look after “the most holy things” – the ark of the testimony; the table of the Presence and all the related utensils; the lampstand and lamps; all the articles used in the sanctuary; and all the utensils used at the altar. They were not allowed to touch any of these items, since only the priests were permitted to touch and look at the unveiled holy things, they were to wrap each in a covering of specific fabric under the strict supervision of Aaron and his sons (NIV Study Bible). Whenever the people were instructed to move from one encampment to another by the cloud, the Kohathites were to carry these items. Aaron and his sons were to go into the sanctuary and assign each man the items that he was to carry; “But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.” <Num.4:20 (NIV)>. Such were the instructions given by God to Moses.

The Reubenites were descendants of Reuben; Jacob in his blessings of his twelve sons referred to Reuben as “Turbulent as the waters” and he and his descendants were characterized by indecision <Jud.5:15-16>. Because of Reuben’s sin against his father, he and his descendants would no longer excel <Gen.49:1-4>. On was also a member of the Reubenite clan.

Korah, certain Reubenites – Dathan and Abiram, including On, and 250 well known community leaders became disrespectful and came to Moses accusing him of appointing Aaron as High Priest of the people in spite of the fact that all the people were holy, “Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

This attack frustrated Moses to the point that he could do nothing more than to fall on his face to the ground, saying to Korah and his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him.” <Num.16:5 (NIV)>. The message was that God would identify the person that He had chosen as high priest, and those that were not selected by God would fall under God’s judgment. The intent of this group opposition was an attempt to take over the priesthood that God had instituted: “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.” <Num.16:8-11 (NIV)>. Here we see that the hostility was not against Moses and Aaron, but against God, and such hostility would be judged by God!

Their argument was that all the people were holy, but were they correct? Here again they had learned nothing from the institution of the priesthood and the Commandments that God had given them. Aaron was instructed as to how he should enter the sanctuary, he was not to do so whenever he chooses to; first he must bathe himself and then put on the sacred linen tunic (priestly garments), then take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, and offer a bull for a sin offering for himself and his household <see Lev.16:1-6>; the goats and the ram would later be offered for the cleansing of the people. Neither were the people holy, for that was the whole purpose of Aaron entering the sanctuary as outlined in the rest of Leviticus 16. Today we are made holy by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was the fulfilment of the atonement sacrifice that was given under the old covenant <see 1 Jn.2:1-2>.

Korah then gathers his followers and moved toward the entrance to the Tabernacle and God’s glory appears to the entire assembly of people, God instructs Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the people so that He could put an end to them; but Moses and Aaron intervene, “O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?” <Num.16:22 (NIV)>, and in this we see the grace of God expressed when He instructs the people through Moses to move away from the tents of Korah and his followers; for now, His judgment is about to fall on the hostile group. “Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”” <Num.16:28-30 (NIV)>; this would be the judgment on Dathan and Abiram; then a fire from God consumed the 250 community leaders. Eleazar the priest was instructed to collect all the censers of the community leaders, hammer them out and use them to overlay the altar; “This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the Lord, or he would become like Korah and his followers.” <Num.16:40 (NIV); cf 3:10>. Moses instructs Aaron to burn incense to make an atonement for the people for the wrath of God was about to fall, and it is recorded that Aaron “stood between the living and the dead” <Num.16:48 (NIV)> and the plague stopped.

 God now identifies the man He chooses to occupy the office of high priest, and instructs Moses to place a staff belonging to the head of each ancestral tribe, together with Aarons staff in front of the Ark in the Tent of Meeting and “The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout” <Num.17:5 (NIV)>. Having marked each staff with the owner’s name as well as Aaron’s staff; Moses entered the Tent of Meeting the next morning and discovered that “Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” <Num.17:8 (NIV)>, this speaks of Christ’s resurrection and the eternal life that He offers us <see 1 Cor.15:20, 22>; and Christ now stands between eternal death and eternal life for all mankind through His death and resurrection. God then instructs Moses to place Aaron’s staff in front of the Ark as a sign to the rebellious people. Aaron was God’s choice for the High Priest, and that office would forever be held by the leader of the tribe of Levi <see Heb.9:2-4>; until the New Covenant is established, where we see that Christ has been made our eternal High Priest <see Heb.7:11, 18-22, 24-25>.

The lesson for us today is that under the New Covenant, just as it was under the Old Covenant, God has established an order in the Church, Christ our High Priest is appointed by God <Heb.5:4-6>, and He mediates for us before His Father in heaven <Heb.7:25; 9:24>. In similarity to the Levites who performed priestly duties, God has set up Elders and Deacons (under modern terminology theses names have been changed but the office is still the same). Elders being responsible for the preaching and teaching of the doctrines of scripture and the Deacons responsible for the material functions of the church <see Acts 6:2-4>, and Paul further gave the requirements of the offices in his Pastoral Letters to Timothy and Titus. Although Elders and Deacons may be appointed by members of the church it must be understood that the appointments are certified by God, and God is able to overrule such appointments in His way and in His time. The incident recorded of Korah and his followers is a warning to us today that we should never, singularly or in a group, form an uprising against the leadership that has been appointed in the church, for as it was under Moses, God will severely punish today those who oppose Him. Our opposition against the church leadership is an antagonism against Christ our High priest. God is able to remove from office those that have been appointed by the will of mankind as opposed to God’s will, so we need to wait on God to act, even though God’s timing may seem too long for our liking.

A REBELLIOUS AND STUBBORN PEOPLE [3/26/21]

Wilderness JourneysMoses and the Israelites spent approximately one year at Sinai, during which the Covenant was ratified, the Tabernacle constructed (Quote- The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas), and various guidelines of the Law were given <Lev.27:34>; then God spoke to Moses; “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’” <Ex.33:1 (NIV)>. God however refused to go with them sighting their stubborn attitude toward His commands. Upon hearing this, the people began grieving while they waited on God to decide what to do with them <Ex.33:3-5>; so it was for the Israelites, rebellious and stubborn in their ways. How about you and I on our wilderness journey?

“On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.” <Num.10:11-12 (NIV)>; this was the pattern of their journeying, whenever the “cloud” moved the people followed until it came to rest <Num.10:33-36>. It was not long before their old ways began to emerge in their lives once again, and the first incident is seen in their complaining about their hardships, and here we see God’s response; “fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.” <Num.11:1 (NIV)>. Then they began to crave other food, they longed for the food they ate in Egypt and complained that they only had Manna to eat. Their complaints were so great that Moses was overwhelmed and requested that God put him to death, so God decided to give them the meat that they so desired <Num.11:11-18>.

Do you, like the Israelites, complain about what God has supplied for you on your wilderness journey? Do you long for the excitement of your old way of life? Has God’s provision for you become meaningless, useless, outdated and no longer applicable to your modern way of life? You need to be careful of your desires for God may grant them; “The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month — until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it — because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”‘” <Num.11:18-20 (NIV); Psa.106:15, 43>. We all need to understand that longing for the things and ways of the old life can be dangerous to us on our wilderness journey! The problem was not the lack of a variation in their food supply, but their lack of gratitude to God for His provisions; He knows what is good for us on our wilderness journey, and this does not pertain to our spiritual food only, it relates to everything that we need in our spiritual life. God would now provide the meat that the people requested; and Moses questioned if God could supply all that they wanted <Num.11:21-23>, like Moses we should never underestimate what God can or will do <Num.11:31-34>. The people then continued on their journey and came to Hazeroth (or Hudhera in Arabic – from The Book of Life, Historical Digest).

Now the “ugly head” of rebellion and stubbornness rises once again as Moses’ leadership is contested; a familiar issue in some of our Churches today. Here we see that Miriam and Aaron (sister and brother of Moses) start an attack on Moses in regards to his Cushite wife; it is not clear if this was a reference to Zipporah, or if Moses had remarried. The attack, however, used the woman only as a pretext, for as we see in the response of God, the focus was on Moses’ prophetic gift and his special relationship with God. Isn’t this the way contentions begin in our social groups and in our churches today – using something or someone as a pretext to the complaint? God’s anger again rises on the offenders <Num.12:1-15>, and after the penalty has been served the people move on to the Desert of Paran where they camped for some time making Kadesh-barnea their headquarters.

At Kadesh-barnea God is now going to prepare His people to conquer the land that He has promised to them as descendants of Abraham. Having first given instructions to Moses while still at Sinai to take a census of the entire community of people, concentrating on all the men twenty years old and above who would form an army <Num.1:1-3>. God now instructs Moses to select one man from each of the ancestral tribes to form a team to explore the land of Canaan, to see what the land, its people, its fortifications and farming capabilities were like; “So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)  When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.” <Num.13:21-25 (NIV)>. They found the land just as it was described – “a land flowing with milk and honey”; but there was an obstacle, something far beyond their capability to overcome! “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”” <Num.13:28-29 (NIV)>; there were giants in the land – the descendants of Anak; and the Israelites were like “grasshoppers” to them. The Israelites had not learned any of the previous lessons that God had tried to teach them, especially at their previous battle against the Amalekites <Ex.17:8-16>. Again, there is complaint and rebellion in the camp and the people wish for something that God would again grant them; “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert!” <Num.14:2 (NIV)>.

God will grant our wishes especially when we are ungrateful and forget what He has done for us. We should always remember the abounding love and forgiveness of God and never be ungrateful in rejecting His goodness and mercy to us, even though we sin against Him in our unbelief; and when, in our doubt of His goodness, we do not confess our sin and seek His forgiveness, we will suffer His judgment for sin or the loss of His blessings; “’The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’” <Num.14:18 (NIV); cf 1 Jn.1:8-9>. God’s judgment for their sin of rebellion against Him is now passed on to all the people: “not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times — not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it….’As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall — every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you — your bodies will fall in this desert.” <Num.14:22-23, 28-32 (NIV)>. The rebellious people decide to conquer the land in their own way in disobedience to God’s command and Moses has to remind them that failure would be the outcome because “the Lord was not with them”; nevertheless, they presumptuously went only to be defeated and driven back into the desert. God’s judgment had fallen upon them and they would now wander in the desert for forty years, one year for each of the forty days that it took them to explore the land.

There are two lessons that God would like us to learn from this. First, unfaithfulness and rebellion against God is to our peril, and as has been seen in the account here at Kadesh-barnea, it resulted in judgment on the guilty people. God will not allow any individual to hold in contempt His commands and live their life as if He does not exist, disregard for His mercy and love will only bring His wrath upon the sinner <Psa.78:32>, and discipline upon His believing children <Heb.12:25>. Second, doing what God has not directed will also lead to our demise, we should never presume that God is leading us, we need to wait in prayer and be certain of His command otherwise “the Lord is not with us” <see Psa.81:11-12; Prov.29:1; Jer.11:8; Heb.4:2>. Let us be sure to listen to and obey The One who speaks from Heaven!

A SUBSTITUTE GOD [3/4/2021]

Following God’s instructions, Moses had gone to the top of the mountain where he waited to receive all God’s instructions: the guiding principles of the Law, the application of the Law and the plans for the building of the Tabernacle (or Tent of Meeting), God’s appointed place of worship; and it is recorded that the time spent in the mountain was forty days <Ex.24:17-18>. To the people this was a long time and they were not sure if their leader would ever return, for they had seen God’s glory appear as a consuming fire and could have presumed that Moses was no longer alive. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain” <Ex.32:1 (NIV)>; the leaders (tribe or clan) of the people went to Aaron (who had been appointed as the High Priest) with a request – “Come, make us gods who will go before us.” <Ex.32:1 (NIV)>. There are times on our wilderness journey when we become impatient with God because His answer or response in delayed, so there is the attempt to make a decision on the assumption that this is the way that God intends. The people had soon forgotten, or failed yet another test, returning to their old ways that were learned in Egypt. “So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”” <32:3-4 (NIV)>; this was most likely intended to represent God (the Egyptians worshipped a living animal a Bull), making this a substitute for God who had led them out of Egypt and across the desert to the foot of Mount Sinai <see Ex.13:21-22>; and this, unfortunately, was in violation of the second commandment <Ex.20:4-5>.

Pagan gods introduce pagan religious worship and practices, for no sooner the calf was made Aaron constructed an altar and the people offered sacrifices, “Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” <Ex.32:6 (NIV)>. What is revelry? Revelry – noisy (boisterous) festivity (or merrymaking); reveling. (from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language), far removed from the order of worship that God had introduced for His people. As soon as the sinner is redeemed by God and brought into His fellowship, Satan introduces a substitute for worship. Many years later in their history God punished the nation by sending them into exile for committing the sin of idolatry <see Deut.8:19-20; 1 Kings 12:28-30; Ezek.8:9-16; 10:18-19; 11:12>. There is always an excuse for doing wrong and for Aaron it was no exception, accusing the people of his sin <Ex.32:21-23; cf Gen.3:12-13>.

In disobeying the commandment, the people had to be punished by God, and Moses was aware of this, so he offered himself to bear the punishment; but God sets the standard for His judgment, for He has declared that “The soul who sins is the one who will die” <Ezek.18:4b (NIV)>, but shows that His judgment may not be an instant occurrence “But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. ….. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”” <Ex.32:32-34 (NIV)>. The only substitute that God has provided to free an individual from the penalty of their sin is the Lord Jesus Christ <Jn.3:16>.

What then is the lesson of the golden calf for us today? The commandment given to the people thousands of years ago still applies; “”You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” <Ex.20:3-5 (NIV)>. So often for each of us God is substituted with a god of our creativity, and this can be anything that replaces God and our worship of Him. It can be legitimate to our life in general; work, hobby, an item that we possess or an event that we are involved in, that causes us to spend less or no time in the worship of God; and the second commandment is violated making the individual guilty of the whole Law of God. God has declared that no individual has an excuse for such a violation of His commandments, for He has revealed Himself to all individuals on the face of this earth, and we should be aware that although His judgment has been delayed, we do suffer the results of our sin in this present life, just as the Israelites did after they violated His commands; “And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” <Ex.32:35 (NIV); cf Rom.1 :18-32>.

Let us not be fooled by Satan to create for ourselves a “golden calf”, for in so doing we will be under the judgment of God. This also unfortunately applies to the believer in Christ, and although a believer will never fall under God’s judgment for sin, a believer who does sin will suffer the loss of God’s blessings both in this life and the next if such sin is not confessed and forgiven by our Lord Jesus. The unfortunate effect of this is that such behaviour finds its way into the Church and the New Testament warns us of this and the consequences, since the introduction of idol worship regardless of the form will only lead to revelry of some form, causing the individual or Church to be guilty of leaving their “first love of Christ” <see Rev.2:4-5; 1 Jn.1:8-9>. Unfortunately, there are many “golden calves” that have been introduced into our personal and corporate worship today, impeding our vision of God because something or someone blocks our vision of God, and such has robbed us of the real blessings of worship, since genuine worship has been substituted by some object or person <see Jn.4:23; 1 Tim.2:5>. We can only worship God through the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who takes our offering and presents it to God.

As you contemplate this, reflect on who or what is the “golden calf” in your life.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES [2/13/21]

“Guiding Principles” are a broad philosophy that encompass your personal beliefs and values and guide an organization throughout its life in all circumstances, irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies or type of work. They create a company culture where everyone understands what’s important. (Quote: Google) Every organization, people group, nation or country that has existed or exists must have guiding principles written into their constitution so that the group or people can function on a day-to-day basis, taking into account all or any changes in circumstances. So, here we find that God brings His people to Sanai to introduce them to His guiding principles in the form of His Law; and it could be said that this would be the most important lesson that they would learn on their wilderness journey.

In preparation for giving the Law we see that the Israelites had to commit themselves to obeying it <Ex.19:8>, God introduces the basic principle or reason for the Law; His holiness puts restrictions or limitations on any individual who may wish to approach or enter His presence. God has told Moses that He will descend upon the mountain to speak with him, and in preparation for this event the people should be purified; cleanse themselves and wash their clothing so as to be ready to meet with God <Ex.19:9-11, 22; cf Lev.15:31>. Because of God’s holiness, no sinful person can approach or enter His presence, and this is the spiritual condition of all individuals due to inherited sin <Psa.51:5; Rom.3:23>; so, Moses should set boundaries and instruct the people that no one should approach or attempt to climb the mountain; “Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.” <Ex.19:12 (NIV)>; death would be the result of anyone that attempted to approach God’s presence, and this is the principle that is set by God for anyone that may attempt to enter His presence. God is separate from sin and no sinful person is allowed in His presence.

The ten commandments given by God to Moses do not constitute the whole Law, they only reflect the spiritual and moral principles on which all of the hundreds of laws in the codes of the Mosaic law stand. The first four <Ex.20:3-11> emphasize our relationship to God, and the last six <Ex.20:12-17> lay emphasis on our relationship to each other. Further to these, the Civil Laws were given and outlined in Exodus chapters 21-24, and although they do not give a complete ethical code for every possible circumstance or issue to be dealt with, they do give examples that cover life situations that we have to deal with.

Upon seeing the lightning, hearing the thunder and the trumpet the people were terrified and requested that Moses speak to them instead of God, for they feared that if God spoke directly to them, they would die <Ex.20:18-19>. It is unfortunate that in our society today there is a similarity to this; rather than individuals attempting to communicate directly with God there is a preference to have someone else in the office of the priesthood to fill that roll. So, Moses gave them assurance that the display of God’s majesty in the lightening and thunder was not intended to fill them with fear, God had only come down as their Heavenly King to make a covenant with them; Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” <Ex.20:20 (NIV)>, and here we see that although God’s Law was given, only God’s presence with them would keep them (individually and as a group) from breaking the Law and sinning against God; a lesson that each of us need to learn, and maintain that presence of God.

What then was the chief reason for the giving of the Law? The Israelites had just been given their freedom from a life of slavery and were now being moulded into a nation with God as their leader, so there had to be guiding principles given so that they would know how to conduct themselves especially in their worship to God, for we see the first principle given is their approach to worship: “Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.  And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.’” <Ex.20:23-26 (NIV)>. Unlike the Egyptians and the other nations that they would encounter in the journey, who had and worshipped many gods in various forms of worship, there was only One God for Israel – Jehovah, and He demands the holiness of His people, worship in His designated place, and the simplicity of such worship. Later we see this put into practice when the people all responded to the giving of the Law – “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” <Ex.24:3 (NIV)>, Moses set up their first altar of worship and offered sacrifices to God <Ex.24:4-8>.

There is another purpose to the Law, one that affects not only the Israelites but all individuals. In the same way that the Law applied to Israel, it applies to all individuals; it is a guiding principle to life in general, a guide to our worship of God, it guides us in our relationship to God and to other people; but we should remember it is only a guide. The Law does not justify any individual, nor does it make anyone holy; and although many have pointed to their “keeping of the Law” that does not make anyone sinless and righteous in God’s view. In the apostle Paul’s writing to the Galatian Church, we see that the Law is a burden, it was given by God to show us that we are not fit or holy to be in God’s presence; for righteousness is solely based on faith, faith in God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Law does not save us from our sin or our sin-nature, it only condemns us <see Rom.3:22-26; 8:1-4>, and compliance to the Law is not righteousness. “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”” <Gal.3:10-12 (NIV); see Jas.2:10>. No human is capable of keeping the entire Law of God, and by breaking one portion we are guilty of breaking the whole Law, making us guilty sinners. Paul therefore, gives the reason or purpose of the Law; “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” <Gal.3:23-25 (NIV)>. Christ, by His sacrifice in His death on the Cross, paid the penalty that the Law demanded, which is the death of the sinner <Rom.6:23>. We observe then, that there is a way of redemption from the curse of the Law for “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” <Gal.3:13-14 (NIV)>.

So, we see that the giving of the Law to Israel was only an illustration of what was to come, not only for Israel but for all individuals; the promise made to Abraham was fulfilled to all people – Jew and Gentile, in Jesus Christ <see Gen.12:2-3; 22:18>. Where do you fit in to this picture; are you relying of keeping the commandments, or are you resting in the promise in Jesus Christ? Only Jesus Christ can deliver you from the curse and requirement of the Law which is eternal death – an eternal separation from God.