I hope by now my few but faithful readers are seeing just how much gospel is in the Old Testament Book of Numbers.
Sin is ruinous. Israel has been finding this truth out the hard way. When we last left them in Numbers 14, their cowardly spies who “gave a bad report” of the Promised Land had “died by a plague before the Lord” (v. 37). So, Israel has just watched the 10 cowards die, while the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, lived to spy another day.
Lesson learned, right? Trust God. Obey God. It’s that simple.
Not so fast. It is that simple, but nothing could be more difficult for hard-hearted sinners than trusting and obeying God. Perhaps this explains why the very next thing the Israeli mob does is to confess their sin (a good thing) and then go about fixing it their way (a bad thing).
Numbers 14:39-40 tells us the plan concocted by Israel is to now confess their sin and go begin taking the Promised Land by military force. Only one problem – God has already told them that none of them over the age of twenty will see Canaan. Instead, they will all die in the wilderness, the 10 cowardly spies being the “down payment,” if you will.
God had spoken.
No wonder Moses urged the people not to follow through with their hair-brained attempt at patching things up with God. “Why then are you transgressing the command [literally the mouth] of the Lord when it will not succeed? Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the Lord is not among you” (vv. 41-42).
So, what will the people do? Will they really learn the lesson? Trust and obey. God had already spoken. Now in an overflowing measure of grace He speaks yet again by Moses warning them not to try to take Canaan. Life or death is again in the balance, it seems.
“But they went up heedlessly . . . then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that country came down and struck them and beat them down” (vv. 44-45).
No surprises there. When will they ever learn? When will we?
How often do we come somewhat to our senses and realize we have sinned, only to confess and then run ahead in our own strength, leaning on our own wisdom? We love to treat our lives like a “fixer-upper.” We’ll make this thing work one way or another. We’ll try harder. We’ll study more. We’ll log more hours. We’ll turn over new leaves. We’ll go to church twice a week. We’ll take good sermon notes. We’ll even join a small group. We’ll get it right this time, God. We promise.
Only one thing missing in that equation.
“Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish, having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3).
Oh God, help us stop and hear Your word with faith. Help us, Holy Spirit, take You at Your Word, trust You, and walk by faith each day. May we, like Paul, come to grasp that it is “No longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Amen.