TODAY’S READING IN THE ONE YEAR BIBLE: THE CALL FOR THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN; THE CITIES OF REFUGE; JESUS HEALS SINNERS AND CALLS THEM TO DISCIPLESHIP
MARCH 22- Numbers 33:40-35:34; Luke 5:12-28; Psalm 65:1-13; Proverbs 11:23
OLD TESTAMENT READING- Numbers 33:40- 35:34
THE CHALLENGE TO REMOVE IDOLATRY IN THE PROMISED LAND BEYOND THE JORDAN
Nine further campsites are listed from the encampment of the children of Israel at Mount Hor, where Aaron died and Eleazar succeeded him as High Priest, to their final campsite at the Jordan River. A total of 42 campsites have been recorded on their wilderness journey (Numbers 33:40-49).
Now opposite Jordan, the LORD commands Moses to give this commission to Israel. They are to:
“drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:52)
God’s judgments upon the Midianites and the Canaanites actually have the blessing of all nations in view. God is preparing to bring forth global redemption through the coming of the Messiah. As He did with Israel, He will call people out from their bondage to sin and death and bring them into an inheritance, a place where they can dwell with Him in a covenant of peace. All His enemies (and that includes all of us at the start) either repent or go our way to destruction. All false gods and idolatries must be toppled. God’s intention is to manifest His glory through a royal priesthood and a holy nation and cleanse the land of all corruption, making all things new.
The historical conquest of Canaan is a foreshadowing of the spiritual conquest in which believers are involved. This conquest takes place in the unseen realm of spiritual realities (called ‘heavenly places’ in the Book of Ephesians.) As we continue to read the Bible, we will get a better look at the relationship between the conquest of Canaan described in the Book of Joshua and the spiritual warfare described in the New Testament Book of Ephesians.
The call to drive out the inhabitants of the land was based upon God’s knowledge of what was best for the human race. The judgment upon the nations of Canaan did not come without warning. Canaan, the son of Ham, was cursed by Noah (Gen 9:25) and his descendants inhabited Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 10:15-19) and turned to horrific practices similar to those that precipitated God’s judgment at the time of the flood. Jewish tradition (derived from the apocryphal Book of Jubilees) indicates that Canaan seized the land from descendants of Shem. Idol worship and demonic activity led to the total rejection of God. Warnings were given with opportunities for repentance. Israel was not taking vengeance against the Canaanite. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. It was the Lord who was calling them to battle. However, the Israelites compromised their obedience to the Conquest of Canaan. This led to their own corruption and punishment (See Judges 1:27-36).
G Campbell Morgan writes, “To tolerate what God has condemned to destruction, is to retain what in itself will prove to be a source of continual difficulty and suffering. The most solemn words of all are those with which the chapter ends:
“And it shall come to pass that as I thought to do to them, so will I do unto you.” (Numbers 33:56)
It reminds us of Jesus’ words,
“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5).
THE LORD DEFINES THE BORDERS AND CHOOSES THE LEADERS
The “land of inheritance” is defined with its borders in Numbers 34:1-13. Leaders were appointed from each tribe to divide the land as an inheritance. There were only 10 leaders chosen for the 9 ½ tribes to whom this land would be apportioned. Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh were excluded from the inheritance. Instead, three times it is noted, they “received” what they asked for as an inheritance. They made their choice and God hereby ratified it, not without making it clear this was His permissive will, and not His perfect will.
(Long after this, Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh will be the first to be captured and carried away.)
PSALM 16 reminds us to be satisfied with what God has in mind to give us for an inheritance:
LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:5-61 (NIV)
These ten tribal leaders had an important function, but, apart from Caleb of Judah, none of the others, as far as I can tell, are referred to again in Scripture. (There are some others who share the same name in previous and later generations: Shemuel, Bukki, Hanniel, Paltiel, Kemuel, Eliaphan, Ahihud).
THE CITIES OF REFUGE (NUMBERS 35:6- 34)
Forty-eight cities were given to the Levites. Six of these were to function as “cities of refuge”. They were to be visible, set upon a hill rather than a valley, and recognizable from a distance. They were to be accessible, within a day’s journey from anywhere in both Canaan and the opposite side of the Jordan. Those who accidentally killed someone would be able to flee to a place of asylum until he had a fair trial.
God regarded life as sacred. God established that there be a reckoning for the taking of life. “Whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be taken” (Genesis 9:6). An unintentional death, however, put the manslayer at risk of being killed before getting a fair trial. The city of refuge would protect him (or her) from the blood-avenger by providing a safe dwelling as long as the High Priest was alive!
The gates of the cities of refuge were always to be open. These cities were appointed before they came into use. The invitation to flee to the city of refuge was open to ANYONE, even those outside the covenant, the alien and sojourner (34:15). After the death of the High Priest, the manslayer was given legal permission to return to his home, the land of His possession.
What a great picture this is of our greater PLACE OF REFUGE in CHRIST where our accuser must be silenced and stopped. Our security is eternal because our Great High Priest died, once and for all, and He lives, never to die again! His substitutionary death assures that we can go home to our inheritance. The fact that He never dies means that there is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Him (Romans 8:1). We are safe and secure in Christ.
However, if the murderer walked away from the city of refuge, the avenger of blood, had the right to kill him.
We all have sinned. We did not choose to be sinners; we were born sinners. Sin came into the human race through Adam, and with it, our separation from God. From birth we are in exile, born under God’s wrath. The law is our avenger and says that all sin must be punished.
The good news is that we can flee to God’s provision of grace. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” He is our city of refuge. Everyone can get to Him if they recognize Him as God’s provision for their need according to the Law. Apart from Him there is nothing to look for but the fearful judgment of the blood avenger’s wrath. So, TODAY is the day of salvation! Run to Him by faith!
If we walk away from God’s provision of grace, there is no more protection.
1 Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:1).
(We will learn more about the cities of Refuge when the children of Israel actually appoint them.)
NEW TESTAMENT READING: LUKE 5:12-28
Jesus’ public ministry continues in the Galilean cities where he encounters the leper and the paralytic. Both of these physical conditions illustrate the spiritual conditions found in all of us as a result of sin- corruption and paralysis. In both of these healings the religious authorities were called upon to take note.
We have seen in the Book of Leviticus how the condition of leprosy reflects the contagious, desensitizing, and alienating effects of sin.
In Luke’s account, the man covered in leprosy makes a wonderful plea, demonstrating both submission to Sovereignty (“Lord, if You are willing”) and faith in His ability to heal (“You can make me clean” Luke 5:12).
First, Jesus reached out and touched the untouchable. He did not speak to the leprosy as he did to the fever. He spoke to the man, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Secondly, he told him to tell no one. This is because the leper would not understand his healing’s significance until he understood what Jesus accomplished on the cross to secure our healing from the disease of sin.
Thirdly, He told him to go and show himself to the priest and make an offering for his cleansing, just as Moses commanded (Leviticus 14). Jesus heals and delivers in a way that fulfills the law. Righteousness must be fully satisfied. This also is in the message of the cross.
The paralytic embodies the condition of fallen human beings. We cannot walk in the Spirit as God originally intended. We cannot walk according to God’s precepts. We cannot even walk! We cannot bring ourselves to Jesus! But help comes to those who call. Four men bring the paralytic to Jesus. The only way they could do that, considering the crowd, was to enter through the roof by removing the ceiling tiles and lowering him down before Jesus.
There is no record of anyone making a spoken request that Jesus heal the man. But the four men going to such lengths to bring someone whose need was so recognizable prompted Jesus to take note of their faith. He said something to the paralytic that no one expected Him to say:
“Friend, your sins be forgiven you.”
This was not going to be the request made by the paralytic or his friends! But Jesus went to the root of the problem. Sin. And He had the power to forgive sins.
Interestingly, the scribes and Pharisees were the first to react publicly, saying, “Who is this man who blasphemes? Who can forgive sins, but God alone!”
They were right. Men can forgive the sins of those who violate them. But ultimately all sin is a violation of the holy will of God who made us and to whom we are accountable.
The burden of our conscience can only be lifted when we know God has forgiven our sins. Ultimately all of our sins have been against Him. David realized this when he prayed:
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:4 (NIV)
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Luke 5:21-24 (NIV)
This is another sign of Jesus’ divinity.
The calling of Matthew
Two sentences- The first sentence: the call; He said to him, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27). The second, the response. It is so simple and direct:
28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:28 (NIV)
The response was so immediate. (At least that is how Matthew perceived it.) You wonder how the Lord was preparing his heart.
READING FROM PSALMS
This Psalm begins with an expression of the worthiness of God. His grace inspires both silent awe and heartfelt praise. There is a recognition that our reconciliation to God was not of our own doing. Forgiveness, fellowship and the joy of answered prayer is the result of His reconciling us to Himself through Christ (v.1-4).
Through Him God is able to forgive us, answer us and draw us near to Himself in righteousness (v.5)
Verses 5-13 remind us that His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, are reflected in the wonders of the created world (Romans 1:20). As the hymn writer put it- “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest; sun, moon and stars in their courses above; join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Great is Thy Faithfulness!”
Psalm 65:8 (NASB) 8 They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.
READING FROM PROVERBS
Proverbs 11:23 (NASB) 23 The desire of the righteous is only good, But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
As new creations in Christ we will have a new desire- to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Let us say “No!” to those desires that war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11; Titus 2:11-12).
PRAYER FOR THE NATIONS: Today we continue to pray for Burkina Faso, in Africa. (A n excerpt from ”Operation World” p.177-180) Operation World can be purchased at www.operationworld.org or at the New Life Community Church Booktable.
ECONOMY: Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest countries. 90% of the population rely on subsistence agriculture which is vulnerable to drought; cotton is the main cash crop. There is some potential for gold and other mineral resources to be exploited. The economy is affected by high national debt, low levels of education (especially for girls) and a negative impact from the strife in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.
POLITICS: Independent from France in 1960. Six coups since 1966. A military coup in 1987 ousted the then leftist government. The leader of this coup has since been elected three times with a large majority of the vote. While retaining tight control over the military and the political power structures (in the name of stability), he has also introduced multiparty democracy.
Challenge for Prayer
As a landlocked, resource-poor, underdeveloped country, Burkina Faso naturally struggles with poverty. There is little likelihood of immediate or rapid improvement of the situation, and both the economic reality and the poverty mentality that grip the land must be dealt with. Pray for:
- a) Aid, development, microfinance and microenterprise projects that will actually lift the people out of poverty rather than create further dependence. Pray against corruption in the government and the aid industry that siphons resources away from the people most in need of it; pray for creative solutions to this longstanding problem.
- b) The many Burkinabé who emigrate for work. An estimated three million Burkinabé worked in Côte d’Ivoire before violence broke out there in 2002. Large numbers fled back to Burkina Faso, but are now returning to Côte d’Ivoire. As many as 70% of these emigrés convert to Islam while away from home. Burkina churches are taking up the challenge by sending pastors and missionaries to reach these Burkinabé abroad, especially AoG, CMA and WEC, but more are needed.
- c) Rapid urbanization continues as subsistence agriculture and traditional rural life prove inadequate to support families or to keep young people occupied. Rural churches now set up branches in the capital to maintain contact with their students and educated members; this also strengthens the church in the home territory.
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, we ask that You direct our hearts into a full possession of what You have given to us in Christ. Give us the determination to drive out the idolatrous influences that corrupt our devotion and cause us to compromise our obedience. Help us to discern what is ours in Christ, that we might rejoice in our inheritance and be satisfied with all that You have allotted to us, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, J.B. Phillips paraphrase)
New Life Community Church, Concord, MA 10742