March 19, 2009

The Confusion of Compromise - Year Bible #11

The second half of the book of Numbers deals with a lot of confusion because there is a lot of compromise. Robert Frost once wrote “I'm not confused, I'm just well mixed.” If we want to, we convince ourselves of almost anything. Compromise is often just a subtle kind of rebellion against God. In Numbers there is one rebellion after another and one problem after another. We left off after Miriam and Aaron had rebelled against Moses (Nu 12), now there’s a full on revolution, 250 leaders of the people, as led by Korah, challenge Moses’ authority. Nu 16.3 says “They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"

Throughout the Bible you do not see leadership by committee. There needs to be someone to make the final decision. There needs to be someone with a sense of vision. There’s a saying “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” When you have this, you can get “shoe soup.”

Nu 16.4 says “When Moses heard this, he fell on his face.” He was probably afraid fire would destroy this rebellion, so he hit the deck. Moses asks all the men to bring their incense censors the next day to meet with him. And in V28 Moses says that there will be proof that he was called by God to lead. If the rebels die a natural death – it means God has not called me, but if the earth swallows them up, then you will understand these men have provoked God. And the ground did open up and swallow them up. (16.29-31) The next day, the people were angry at Moses for what he did and they murmured against him. (16.41) Then a plague began to kill the people (16.46-50).

To once and for all settle the authority issue, God has Moses collect a staff from each of the twelve tribes with the name of the tribe written on each staff. These are placed in the tabernacle. “And it shall come to pass, that the man's rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you.” (17.5) The next day it was Aaron’s staff that budded and actually produced almonds. This shows how God’s grace and fruitfulness in ministry are often signs of God’s favor and authority. But it’s not a 100% rule because people like Jeremiah and Isaiah were faithful ministers but no one responded to their teachings and warnings. Aaron’s staff would be put in the Ark of the Covenant along with a bowl of manna and the 10 Commandments. “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die." (Nu 17.10)

Rebel to Rebel

Miriam, Moses’ sister, had just died and he’s feeling bad to begin with. Then “There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron.” (20.2) God instructs Moses to speak to a rock that it may become a spring of water for the people. But instead of speaking to the rock, he yells at the people, calling them rebels and hits the rock two times. Though God does provide the water from the rock abundantly, He shows that Moses was also being a rebel. Both Moses and Aaron are denied access to the Promised Land for this incident. “But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." (20.12) Leaders are held to a higher standard by God, as shown in James 3.1 “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” Aaron dies at the end of chapter 20.

The Medicine for Sin

As they continue traveling, they complain again and God sends fiery serpents which bit many people and they died. (Nu 21.5-6) Here we have another good example of the negative, complaining attitude; it’s like poison that kills. “Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." (Nu 21.8) The universal sign for medicine is a snake on a staff. That comes from this verse. There is only one medicine and cure for sin, which is the gospel. We are condemned to die because of the poison of sin that we are infected with, but Jesus Himself became the cure for us. II Cor 5.21 says “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.” Jesus became for us like the serpent that was hung on the staff. And it’s not by our own works, but by personal faith in Him alone that we are saved. It wasn’t enough to believe this staff existed; the people had to personally view the staff with the snake. In a similar way, each person must choose to receive or reject the work of salvation Christ performed on the cross. (Jn 3.14-16)

Balak and Balaam

Here’s a really wild story. As Israel continues ahead, they set up camp in the plains of Moab, enemy territory. Balak, king of the Moabites, wants to destroy them, even though he realizes the God of Israel is really the true God. This is why he wants to hire a famous prophet to curse Israel in the name of God. If you think this is confusing, it gets worse. The prophet he wants to hire is a mercenary prophet available for the highest bidder. He compromises his life in every way. He also believes God is the one true God but is willing to go against God’s people for money. And though he believes the God of Israel is the one true God, he believes it’s ok to use sorcery and serve God at the same time. This account is a good example of God’s perfect will and his permissive will. When the delegation first comes to Balaam to offer money, God shows His perfect will. “And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.” (Num 22:12). But the delegation comes a second time. And before they arrive, God gives Balaam a green light to go with them: “And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.” (Num 22:20). God knew what was in Balaam’s heart. God knew that he wanted money more than everything and was willing to compromise for it. So He allows him to go but gives one condition, to speak only the words God gives him.

As Balaam is traveling on his donkey – something interesting happens, God is angered and blocks his way with an unseen angel. “And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him.” (Nu 22.22) God had given him permission, so why was God angry? This is explained a few verses later.

As Balaam continues, as shown in verses 23-30, something even more interesting happens. As he continues, his donkey sees the angel blocking the gate which Balaam does not see and the donkey stops. Balaam is angry and beats his donkey, which he thinks is being stubborn. But God miraculously allows the donkey to communicate with Balaam. “So the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?” And he said, “No.”” Nu 22.30 (NKJV) So in the ultimate irony, a donkey, which is supposed to be the most stubborn animal, shows himself to be a better example than his own master. The donkey basically asked “have I ever disobeyed you?” Too bad Balaam could not say the same thing to his so called master. God will use any means possible to try and teach us the right way or to keep us from going the wrong way, but how stubborn we can be!

22.32 “And the Angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me.” (NKJV) and then this is clarified in verse 35: “Then the Angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but only the word that I speak to you, that you shall speak…” This implies that Balaam had decided to disobey God and speak curses against Israel. God knows our hearts and He knows how to get our attention.

Arriving in Moab, Balaam asks for 7 altars to be built to worship God. Then God gives Balaam a word to speak. He begins his blessing by saying “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed” (Num 23:8). He looks down on all the camp of Israel and pronounces a long blessing. “Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” Balaam’s blessing proclaims the fruitfulness and righteousness of Israel, in accordance with God’s covenant. Balak is angered, understandably. So Balak decides to take him to another location where he cannot see all the camp of Israel. Again seven altars are built to worship God and again Balaam pronounces a blessing. This time he shows God’s amazing grace in 23.21: ““He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them.” Balaam’s blessing shows God’s amazing grace. Though Israel has also been stubborn and has complained, God has overlooked all her sins by His grace.
A third time Balak tried to persuade Balaam to curse Israel. Again Balak built 7 altars and Balaam worshipped God. Here there is some additional information. It shows that all along, Balaam was trying to use the occult with regard to Israel. 24.1 states: “Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness.” In verse 4 it shows how God took complete control of Balaam as he spoke “He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open.” Balaam not only blesses Israel, but this time he describes how God will destroy Moab and other enemies, the Edomites, Amalekites and Kenites. Balak was so ticked he struck his hands together (V10). After this they both go their separate ways. It seems like Balak’s efforts were a complete failure. But when you look at the fallout, there was a serious effect on Israel.

Plan B

It seems that the enemy had a “plan B” of how to curse Israel. This begins with Balaam deciding to live with the Midianites. This fact is revealed later in Numbers 31:7-8. He ended up being killed with them as an enemy of Israel. But why did he become an enemy? Didn’t he just bless Israel three times? He became an enemy because he helped Balak to seduce the Israelites into idolatry. “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to fornicate with the daughters of Moab.” (Numbers 25:1) This was not only physical seduction but spiritual. "Shittim" means acacia grove, a place of pagan worship. “They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.” (Numbers 25:2) Having defeated the Amalekites, Israel felt secure from their enemies, the guard was let down. But the enemy had a different tactic: Get Israel to fall into sin and God will judge Israel. That’s exactly what happened. Baal was known as a “goddess of love” who was worshipped in the city of Beth-Peor (Deut 3:29; 4:46). This was basically pagan worship involving fornication and feasting. The Jewish men had their own wives and families but were seduced by the Moabite women and because of this there was a plague in their midst.
Today there is a similar problem with adultery and divorce. Christians have about the same divorce rate as non Christians. In Mark 10.1, the Pharisees asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus explained that God’s intention was always for one man to be joined with one woman. Compromise begins by asking the wrong question “What can I get away with?” vs. the right question “What is the most pleasing to God?” Compromise can begin with little thoughts but this is just the beginning. There’s a saying “Sow a thought, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a lifestyle. Sow a lifestyle, reap a destiny.” Things that seem harmless at first can have disastrous results. Both idolatry and adultery were prohibited by the Mosaic Law and the penalty was capital punishment. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel. The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel."(Nu 25.3,4). The plague was turned away but there was a great loss. May we live “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Chrst.” (II Cor 10.5b)


How would you summarize the book of Numbers? Ray Steadman pointed out Romans 11:22. There Paul shows the "goodness and severity of God." I agree that’s a good picture of Numbers. The severity of God is shown as an entire generation is excluded from the Promised Land, including Moses and Aaron. The goodness of God is seen in how God fulfils His promise the new generation, in spite of the fact that they are just as rebellious and seem to complain just as much! It shows the perfect balance of justice and love in God’s character. This should be a comfort to us as God’s children. No matter how much we may mess up and make mistakes, God’s Spirit will never abandon us.

It’s easy to see faults in others but not in ourselves. Compromise may not seem so bad, but really it’s a kind of rebellion against God. Complaining also may not seem so bad. But all murmuring about the conditions around us is really against God Himself. Why? …Because God created all things and is in control of all things. Is my will surrendered to God today or is there a bit of rebellion against Him? Is there any bitterness against God?

In what ways do believers compromise today? …How about quick divorces and not honoring marriage. Taking bribes or giving bribes is a compromise for Christians. This is forbidden and shown to cause corruption and poverty (Amos 5.12). The word also says not to join together with unbelievers in marriage, etc. (II Cor 6.14). Mixing the occult with Christianity is forbidden (Deut 18.10). Compromises may seem small or insignificant, such as reading the daily horoscope in the newspaper, but if it’s not pleasing to God, why do it? For any compromises we may be making, we need to repent.

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