Bible Through the Year: Episode 10

Week Ten Devotion

We have been reading the book of Numbers for 3 weeks now and It’s been a pretty fascinating look into the wilderness journey of Israel. It started off with the whole nation being broken up into tribes and counted. Then they all celebrated the Passover right before the set out on their first march which began in chapter 10.

The book of Numbers can be broken up into 5 parts. The first part in chapters 1-10 dealt with their time in Sinai and all the preparations for the journey. Then there is a travel section from chapters 10-12. The third section deals with their time in the wilderness of Paran and this is where they sent the spies into the land.

This middle section also shows Israel’s rebellion against Moses, their divinely appointed leader. They lose a military battle against the Amalekites and the Canaanites. There is also a larger rebellion that takes place in Chapter 16 and this is led by a Levite named Korah. This second rebellion was basically a power play and it ended when God caused the earth to open up and swallow Korah and 250 other men who had decided to take his side.

The next travel section, in chapters 20-21, show things getting even worse. God has been leading the people, feeding the people and caring for their every need; but at every turn the people of Israel don’t want to accept God’s plan. They want different food, they want a different leader, they don’t trust God to protect them against their enemies; this whole book puts the rebellious hearts of God’s people on display. Which is crazy considering all that God has done for them and all that He is currently doing to keep them alive.

Now, up to this point Moses has been a really faithful leader. He has gotten upset at times but he has done what the Lord told him to do, but in chapter 20 even Moses rebels. They were travelling again and there was no water for the people to drink so God told Moses to take his staff in his hand and to speak to this large rock commanding it to bring forth water. But Moses didn’t do what God told him to do. Instead, He yelled at the people and struck the rock with his staff.

God still made water come out of the rock but this act of rebellion cause God to discipline Moses and Aaron. Like the rest of their generation they would die in the wilderness and not be able to go into the Promised Land. That streak of rebellion and grumbling that marked the older generation of Israelites had even affected Moses and God wanted to make it clear that He didn’t want that rebellious streak to continue once the people came into the Promised Land.

So, by the time we get into the last section you might think that God is ready to get rid of these people. They have done nothing but grumble and complain and rebel. But in chapter 22, the last section of the journey gets underway in the Wilderness of Moab and we meet a pagan sorcerer named Balaam and the king of Moab named Balak. King Balak happened to see the nation of Israel marching into his land and he was afraid because there were so many of them. He decides to reach out to Balaam and asks him to use his power as a sorcerer to curse the people of Israel but it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Here is something to discuss…

Israel didn’t deserve God’s blessing at all. They have shown their faithlessness throughout this book, but here in this story of Balaam, we see that even when we are faithless God remains faithful. The King of Moab promises to pay Balaam if he will just pronounce a curse on Israel and Balaam agrees to try. He agrees to pray to the Hebrew God and attempt to curse the people but what happens is that God puts His words of blessing into the mouth of Balaam so every time he every time he begins to speak he is not able to curse the people but instead he pronounces blessings over them.

This makes the king really angry but Balaam says, “I’m just the messenger and I can only speak the words that God has put in my mouth to speak.” This happens three more times and each time Balaam attempts to curse them but ends up blessing them. He even talks about Israel’s future king who will subdue and rule over the surrounding nations. Through this pagan sorcerer, God spoke words of blessing over His people, even though they were rebellious and ungrateful.

What does this tell us? Well, it shows us that God is on the side of His people no matter what. God’s grace is greater than their sin. There were still consequences to the people’s rebellion. A whole generation would die off and not see the Promised Land, but God wasn’t going to abandon His promises nor His people. There is more grace in God than there is sin in us.

In the very next chapter (25) we see sin and idolatry taking place in the Israelites camp. God is swift to bring punishment because of this sin, but this does not keep Him from also blessing the people. God has a plan to make Israel into a great nation. He has established them as His people, He has promised to bless them and be their God, He has even promised to bless all the nations through them.

What does this teach us about the goodness and grace of God? What does this show us about our own sinful hearts and tendency to grumble and rebel? The truth is that God shows this kind of grace to Christians as well. We are not saved because we stop sinning and we don’t stop sinning after we are saved. God saved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) and He loves us despite our ongoing struggles with sin. His grace is amazing. His love is incredible and it never ceases.

When we see the magnitude of God’s grace toward us it should move us to sorrow over sin that leads to genuine repentance. It should bring us to the point where we confess our sin to God and cry out for forgiveness and cleansing. This kind of love should stir our hearts and make us want to love, and serve and obey God more faithfully.

Here is something to meditate upon…

“’Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” We read this phrase in Romans 12:19 and also in Hebrews 10:30 and both of these are quoting what God says in Deuteronomy 32:35. In Deuteronomy God is pointing out that He will judge the nations for their sin and pour out vengeance on those who have sinned against His people.

Vengeance is about justice and our God is a just God. Not only is God just but He is the judge of all the earth. Since He created all things and He is the greatest and best of beings it is fitting that God not only establish the boundaries of justice in laws but also that He uphold justice as the rightful judge of all that He has made. This is the foundation of divine justice and it is important that we understand this as we continue to read the Bible.

I want us to think about God’s justice in two ways: against sin generally and against those who have sinned against God’s people specifically. In Genesis 6 we see a picture of God’s just judgment upon all the world for their sin. The flood was an act of divine judgment. It was a pouring out of God’s wrath toward the sin of all mankind. But in the midst of this judgment, we also see God’s hand of mercy toward the family of Noah.

Mercy is when God withholds from us the judgment we rightly deserve. Every day God’s mercy is shown to this world. His mercies are renewed each morning and it is on account of God’s mercy that we haven’t experienced His judgment for our sin.

But there is another way we need to view God’s justice and it has to do with His vengeance upon those who have sinned against His people. Here in Numbers 31 we see God taking vengeance/revenge upon the people of Midian because they led Israel to sin against God. The people of Midian tempted Israel and led them into idolatry, led them to worship Baal in chapter 25. And God is going to use Israel as an instrument of His justice upon the sin of Midian. In other words, God is paying them back for their sin against His people.

What we see in Numbers 31 is the justice of God at work. God has chosen to use Israel as an instrument of divine justice and they are to carry out God’s punishment upon the nations for their sin against God and their sin against the people of God. The heart of justice that God expresses is retribution or reckoning. He pours out on people what they deserve. This is the essence of a judge’s task. He rewards good with blessing and evil with punishment. 

It is crucial that we understand this as we read through the Bible and it is equally important that we not seek to establish our own sense of justice as we read the Bible. Many will read these stories about God’s punishment on the nations and they will say that it does not seem fair, but we must keep in mind the fact that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s moral standard. We have to keep in mind that we all deserve to perish under the weight of God’s judgment.

In other words, God doesn’t owe us anything but justice. We don’t deserve anything but God’s just wrath. But in His Love He has chosen to show us grace instead. He has chosen to show us saving mercy instead. So when we see these scenes of God’s vengeance upon the nations it should serve as a picture of what we rightly deserve from God and it should cause us to be more thankful for the grace that we have been shown.

Here is something to pray about…

The book of Numbers ends with some final instructions from Moses about how Israel should conduct themselves once they get into the Promised Land. The tribes were broken up and given their portion of the land. There were plans laid out for the city that the Levites would live in and the cities that people could flee to for refuge. But the bulk of what Moses has to say is written down in the next book of Deuteronomy.

The first two chapters of Deuteronomy recount the last 40 years and the journey that took Israel through the wilderness and this is what I want us to pray about. In these first 2 chapters, God is reminding the people of their past failures. He is helping them to remember these things so that they can guard their hearts against the same thing happening again. God wants us to remember past sins in the hopes that we might avoid the same things in the future.

But at the same time God also reminds them of how He has been faithful to them despite their sin. God is like a loving father, urging his children to do better next time and reminding them of his grace and forgiveness. Let this guide you in prayer this week.

First of all, if there is an ongoing sin struggle in your life right now, then confess it to God in prayer. Tell Him all about your struggle and ask Him to forgive you for what you have done. But also ask Him to give you strength over this sin. Ask Him to make you more concerned with His glory than anything else. Be willing to repent and put away whatever is keeping you from being faithful to God.

All the while remembering that there is more grace in God than there is sin in you. He wants His grace to be the highlight of your story. 


Justin Wheeler

Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX.