NUMBERS 31:1 – 33:56 and MARK 9:1–32
We see some more of the fallout as a result of the ministry of Balaam. There was a judgement upon Israel in the death of about 24,000 men. There is a war now being waged against Midian. Interestingly, there is no appointed general going forth as the leader. We also see that Joshua is not yet given the command to lead. In addition, we can note that Moses does not go forth at this time to lead. The primary task has been given to Phineas. The one who executed God’s judgement is the one called upon to lead in this battle against the Midianites. It is also noted that he is equipped with the Holy Instruments of war. This would include among other things the Ark of the Covenant, which speaks of the presence of God. Who else could be trusted with such an assignment? We see the priestly role called upon on in numerous occasions when God looks to destroy an enemy. Saul, as king, could not get the job done against the Amalekites. It took Samuel the priest, to fully execute God’s pleasure. Saul was ill equipped for many reasons. First, he was not God’s choice for king. Besides, he was a Benjamite and did not come forth from the royal line. Secondly, he gave no heed to the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chr 13:3). It was the priests who could bare the Ark and we see in Saul’s reign no priestly representation other than Samuel. We also know that Saul sought to assume the office of a priest while under pressure from the people (1 Sam 13). It was important to destroy the Midianites for what they had done to Israel. It was the prophetic ministry of Balaam who opened the door to the sin of immorality with the Midianites.
We gain a bit more insight into what Balaam did in verse 16. The counsel of Balaam opened the door for women of Midian to mix with the men of Israel. This was a serious breach. There are some important truths to draw out of this event. The Laws of God serve many purposes. They help to define who God is but they also serve as a means of protection and defence. If a people are law abiding it gives no room for the enemy to work or manoeuvre. This mixture provided an open door for immorality to take hold. The laws of Leviticus were very clear in maintaining separation in these areas. The enemy, knowing that his territory is under threat moves through people like Balak to try and lay a trap for God’s people. He had the ability to appeal to the covetous nature of Balaam’s heart.
The damage done by a man of reputation and influence such as Balaam is extensive. Balaam was a prized cap in Satan’s arsenal. Likewise today, leaders of repute are especially targeted. If a person of influence and reputation can be compromised it results in great damage. The poison and effects of what has been released must be immediately addressed. The act that Phineas performed went a long way in helping to atone for the abomination that took place. God was angry and yet His wrath and anger was pacified by the spearing of the guilty party.
We have been privy to examples where significant leaders of our day fell in some capacity. In one such case the home base of our Missions organization acted quickly on a mission field related matter. The leadership was guilty of a serious sin. It was something that many of the native leaders were aware of. Because the home base acted quickly it minimized the fallout. This couple was sent home and ministered too. This response sent a strong message to all concerned parties that there was to be no tolerance for such matters. There is a guiding verse from Ecclesiastes that has helped guide me in this area.
“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (Eccl 8:11)
When the presence of the Lord (Ark) was brought into battle under the capable hands of a faithful priest, the enemy stood no chance. We shall later see presumption and abuse on behalf of the priests of God regarding the Ark. I feel Phineas was chosen for this task given the record he displayed against this enemy in the matter of Peor.
There is an interesting thought conveyed in verses 22-23. It speaks of the things that can abide the fire such as gold, silver, lead etc. These elements would be considered clean. The balance of the other items would have to go through the water. I feel this is a picture of two types of believers. The water of separation was done outside the camp. The purified believer is like gold tried in the fire (Isa 48:10) or silver refined. The work of a refiner is expressed as one studies the Book of Malachi. It is a work primarily geared toward the priests. Let’s note in particular the following verses:
“But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Mal 3:2-3)
The balance of chapter 31 addresses the dividing up of the spoils (vs 25-54).
The anticipation of the children of Israel entering into their inheritance is beginning to peak. A few of the tribes see territory on the Eastern side of Jordan that they found to be appealing (vs 1-5). Reuben and Gad have a rather large contingent of families with them and as a result opt for obtaining their inheritance immediately. The question needs to be asked as to whether this was God’s will for them or not. They bring their request to Moses and he responds to them in verses 6-15. Moses reminds them of Israel’s previous transgression at Kadesh Barnea. There is a sense that a similar attitude was beginning to play out that was seen 40 years earlier.
One can imagine some of the thoughts that may have been on Moses mind. “Here we go again” or something to that effect. In verses 16-19 the leaders of Reuben and Gad make clear that they will fight the battles over Jordan before they settle into their inheritance. What was it about the land that brought them to establish their tribes on the eastern side of Jordan in Jazer? Was this God’s will for them; was it His best?
The Bible does speak about an inheritance quickly gained (Pro 20:21). The problem with this approach is that it is short sighted. Do we see a semblance of Lot in this picture? After all, they were settling in the land of Moab which can be traced to the incestuous relationship Lot had with his daughters. Lot saw with his eyes; made a decision on something that looked good but had no clue what was to come later in Sodom. We will see later in the writing of Isaiah a lament that God has for the destruction and judgement upon Moab. Why would the Lord exclusively pity Moab? Perhaps it’s because of being inhabited by families who chose an inferior inheritance. If you check the cities of Moab listed in Isa 16 and compare it with the listing of cities given to Reuben and Gad you will see the connection. We must always allow the Lord to choose our inheritance whether it be a life partner or calling. God knows the end from the beginning; we do not. Don’t you think it prudent to place your trust into the hands of the one who knows all things?
A man of God exhorted our Bible Class to ask this question when making an important or challenging decision. “What is the end of the matter?” That is excellent advice. Do we realize we serve a God who desires to be involved in the major decisions concerning our lives? Why don’t we let him? Why didn’t Reuben, Gad and half of Manassah seek the Lord for the end of the matter before quickly making a decision? On the surface this decision may have looked good at the beginning but there was no understanding of what was to come. This is such a valuable lesson for us. Too often we allow expediency and circumstances to govern important decisions for our lives.
This takes on greater importance when considering that we are living in the last days. God created us for a purpose. We bring Him pleasure when we seek to align our lives into His creative purpose. It was not God’s will for these 2 ½ tribes to settle on this eastern side of Jordan. They even fought the battles that would have gained them a greater inheritance. Perhaps they could not trust God for something greater after looking at the land at Jazer. How can we equate this example into a modern day context? So many people settle for 2nd best when pursuing a life partner. All may look well up front but only God knows the end of the matter. Should we not be able to trust Him for His best for our life? This could also pertain to a ministry or major decision that may need to be made regarding career shift or having to move to a new location. We must seek God for His best in every situation. This would also include knowing His timing as well. In verses 20-42 we see Moses agreeing to their request. He then gives them instruction and direction in what they will need to do. He also makes clear that they will need to fight the battles alongside their brethren before settling back into their inheritance.
We have a review of the journey of Israel from the time they left Egypt up to their present place (vs 1-49). This time of reflection should help to encourage Israel as they are about to embark in a new season of conquest under a newly appointed leader. There would be battles to fight and lands to be obtained. There could be no denying the hand of the faithful God who has led Israel the past 40 years. He who has begun a good work will finish it.
In our walk as a believer it is helpful to have times of reflection in all that God has done. Keeping a daily journal is strongly encouraged because it serves as your record of God’s faithfulness to your life. I started doing journaling back in 1995 while we were living in Orissa, India. Those years had many challenges and triumphs. There are times when I will go back and read the experiences we were going through in those days. Amazingly, I have forgotten many incidents, some of them very difficult ones yet we see how the Lord brought us through. If God was able to see us through back then in the midst of troubling matters can He not do it today? This is why reflection and rehearsing of God’s working in a life is essential. David was a meditator and this quality sure served him well. Consider the following verse:
Psa 77:6 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.
The psalmist above was going through a time of difficulty. He then took some time to “call to remembrance” the good things God had done in his past. As he contemplated he saw how God worked and moved in times past. His spirit was lifted and it changed his outlook and confession.
The children of Israel are on the threshold of something new and fresh. This time of the rehearsing of the journey should help to inspire and affirm that God is well able to see them through in this new move. We also need to remember that God established his covenant with Abraham after giving the promise of Israel being brought back to their land (Gen 15).How important it is to know and understand the dealings and ways of God. Later on when we look at the Book of Nehemiah we will see a man who is well acquainted with Israel’s history. His knowledge of God’s dealings enables him to understand his calling and mission. As believer’s we need to take time and reflect. As we do we may discover key insights about what God is doing today and where He may be leading us tomorrow.
In verses 50-56 the Lord gives strict instruction concerning the need for driving out the enemy. They are to destroy their idols and high places. The Lord also warns of what will happen if they fail to drive out an enemy. It will one day come back to be a stumbling block. We will see this happen on a few occasions in their occupying of Canaan and beyond. These scriptures provide us a good model for “house cleansing” services. In moving into a new dwelling place you are entering new land that was formerly occupied by someone. We want to drive out any “spiritual” inhabitants that may occupy a place within that house. God was giving them the land and they needed to occupy it while driving out its inhabitants.
We will later discover another key concerning this possessing of the land. The generation that was to enter the land had to be circumcised. The previous generation had now passed away. This new circumcision speaks of the circumcision of heart. It is a picture for the New Covenant where the Law of God is written upon the fleshly tables of the heart (Jer 31:33). This is what distinguishes the crossing of the Red Sea from the Crossing of Jordan. When one is circumcised in their heart they are allowing God to occupy inward kingdoms and territories. The strongholds in our own life are brought down so that these Kingdoms that lurk within us now become the possession and kingdoms for our Lord. If we have circumcision worked out within it will enable to us to be effective in taking outside territories for the Lord. This is the primary purpose of the wilderness (Deu 8:2). It was to see what was in the heart. The last 7 verses of Numbers 33 are speaking to the occupying of physical land but it can be applied internally as well. We need to heed the lesson that Solomon taught.
Son 2:15 Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
Sadly, Solomon did not live by his own counsel and advice. As God is leading us into a new season in these exciting days may we take great care in allowing the Spirit of God to overturn every stronghold that lurks within us. We must first yield to the sword in our own lives before we can wield the sword in our respective Canaan’s.
We have another account of the event that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration. I feel in the days to come we will have a greater understanding as to all that this moment entails. It is a very interesting dynamic. Peter, James and John were able to witness something extraordinary; something that was so overwhelming to them that they did not know how to respond. Peter makes an attempt by saying “It is good for us to be here, let us make three tabernacles…” What else could he or any of the others say? What was actually happening here?
If you were to read the account of Luke and Mathew you would find that verse 1 of Mark 9 is placed in a different context. In Luke’s account (Lk 9:27-36) you would find that verse 1 is referenced to when Jesus asked this question: “Who do men say that I am?”. Then it mentions that 8 days have passed (vs 28) before Peter, James and John came with Jesus to the Mt. of Transfiguration. So it appears that Mark 9:1 is not in sync with the next 9 verses that speak on the Transfiguration experience. But then again I wonder if there is not a significance that is being fleshed out in Mark’s account. Let me try to explain my thoughts: 🙂
What are some of the common denominators we see in Jesus, Moses and Elijah? The fundamental similarity is that they will all die in Jerusalem and resurrect after 3 days. The three of them will also openly ascend to heaven. Wait a moment! How can this be if Elijah and Moses have already long passed on? Remember, it was the Lord who buried the body of Moses.
Deu 34:6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.
It was the Lord who brought Elijah to Himself in a whirlwind.
2Ki 2:11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
This unique way of receiving Elijah and Moses signals a potential future role and ministry for them in the days to come. This is confirmed in the Book of Revelation (Rev 11:1-12). The two witnesses (Moses and Elijah) will again come on the scene in the last days. They will appear at the beginning of the last week of 7 years. The beast (antichrist) will kill them in the middle of the last week (3 ½ years) due to their stinging witness of Truth. Is this not like the Lord Himself, especially as He got closer to the end? There will be celebration in the streets after the death of these two witnesses. After 3 days there bodies will resurrect to the astonishment of many and will soon ascend into heaven. I feel that their ascension may well be linked to the coming forth of the man-child company in Rev 12. These sequences of events will be happening quickly.
The point is this! There are many similarities that can be seen between the Lord, Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John saw the kingdom of God being manifested with power. They witnessed the death and resurrection of the Lord. They also were privy to His ascension. They experienced the outpouring of power at Pentecost. Still, there is a greater outpouring reserved for the last days (Joel 2:23). There is soon coming the day when the ministry of Elijah and Moses will again take hold. Who will be the modern day versions of (Peter, James and John) who will have the privilege of being partakers of this momentous event to come?
We made the comment earlier as to how Mark 9:1 seems to be out of context when comparing with the account of Mathew and Luke. Personally, I feel there could be a dual fulfilment here. Jesus was being prepared and strengthened for the final days of his earthly mission. In considering the two witnesses who are with Jesus at transfiguration we get a picture of the dominant ministries that will be seen in the last days. You have Moses as the teaching priest alongside Elijah as the strong prophetic voice who has a primary ministry of restoration. A point we have considered throughout our commentaries is that all ministry offices must be functioning together. We have seen the dangers of a prophet without a tempering harness of a priest (Balaam). The teaching priest together with the strong prophetic voice of restoration must emerge in these last days. Mark 9:1 can well have an application for the last days. Consider the following verses from Luke’s account.
Luk 9:27 But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
Luk 9:28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
Luke gives the demarcation of 8 days between the statement about the kingdom of God and the event of transfiguration. The number 8 speaks of new beginnings. I am not trying to stretch a truth here but it is clear to me that the message of transfiguration has modern day relevance. There is so much to contemplate and pray over regarding this unique moment.
Interestingly, in light of the comments above there are some questions raised about Elijah in verses 11-13. Here we see the Lord linking the ministry of John the Baptist to Elijah in saying that he was a restorer, one who paved the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember the last words of the Old Testament?
Mal 4:4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
Mal 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
Mal 4:6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Once again we see Moses and Elijah linked together. Can you see the dual fulfilment in these verses? John the Baptist can be likened to Elijah because he did prepare the way of the Lord (Isa 40:3) This event has already happened when Jesus is being confronted with this question. John the Baptist had already finished his work and ministry. Still, we know that Elijah will again come on the scene with a message focusing on restoration. This will be complemented with the teaching ministry of Moses, who will put emphasis on the Law and the ways of God. I feel we need to look at these events concerning transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, John the Baptist and even Peter, James and John from a dual fulfilment perspective. The privilege that Peter, James and John had is one we should seek to experience as well. There is so much to ponder when looking at the events of Transfiguration.
In verses 14-30 we see the account of the demon possessed son. This was a particularly difficult case to manage due to no one being able to set the boy free (vs 18). One of the keys to this deliverance seems to center around the faith of the father (vs 23). We can identify with the father’s response when he says “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”. We all know that God can do all things but when it comes to affecting us personally we struggle. The Bible says that unbelief is sin and we must come to the place where we can learn to take God at his Word. It was unbelief that resulted in Israel forfeiting their opportunity to go in and possess the land. It was unbelief that limited Jesus in his ability to do might works in Nazareth (Math 13:58). I feel a key in helping this area of unbelief is learning to come into a place of Rest in God. We have looked at this in some detail when studying truths concerning the Sabbath. It is from a position of Rest where we can see God at work. There is a labouring and striving to come into this position. God is calling us into that place.
Heb 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
Heb 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
We need to pray that the Lord would help us to come into that position of Rest so that we can cease striving in our strength and efforts so that the Lord’s work can flow forth through us.
Jesus seized on an opportunity to yet again present a “teachable moment”. He wanted them to bring out in the open what it was they were talking about on the way to Capernaum. The Lord was not ignorant of the issue but wanted them to air out their discussion so that He would be able to bring right perspective to the subject. They were embarrassed to respond to him (vs 33) so the Lord went forth and shared on the keys to true greatness (vs 33-37). We find that this is an issue that will arise again at the time of the Last Supper (Luk 22:24). Each time the Lord sought to illustrate true greatness differently. At the time of the Last Supper He got down on His knees and assumed the role of a servant. In this example he takes a child and holds in his arms and mentions that whosoever receives a child in His name will receive both Christ and the Father (vs 37). In the midst of such a crowd the least regarded person of reputation, rank and position would be that of a child. The Lord demonstrates humility in celebrating the uniqueness and innocence of a child making known how precious they are in the eyes of God. The compassionate care and concern the Lord had for children should never be overlooked. While everyone seeks to be part of an “in crowd” of movers and shakers one must always seek to meet the fundamental needs of all. Jesus was clearly a man of the people. He cared not for reputation but rather was invested in meeting the needs of people, lifting them up and serving them. These are qualities that will catch the attention of the Lord. These are qualities that will help bring about “true greatness” in the kingdom of God.
The Lord then answers a concern of John regarding the casting out of devils. He saw a man who was not part of their company casting our devils in Jesus name. This was a problem seen back in the day of Moses as well (Num 11:26-27). This was when Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp. Joshua asked Moses to forbid them from doing so for they were not of the 70. It could be in this case that this man who was casting out devils was not of the 70 who have gone forth. Perhaps he was of the company of John the Baptist’s disciples. In any case we see the Lord making a statement about the dangers of “exclusivity”. This is still commonplace today. It is a mentality that says that some matters of the kingdom can only be done through our organization etc. The Gospel message is for all. There is however an exclusive “high calling” within the Gospel message as seen in the 3 stages of Moses Tabernacle. The Holy of holies represents the call to Zion where the presence of the Lord dwells. It is “exclusive” but it is available to all. It is only by the grace of God that any of us can attain.
1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
In our zeal and pursuit to seek to attain to a life of holiness we may dismiss or look down upon others who may not have the same view or standards. In these last days it is vitally important for the body of Christ to come together. The world and its prince is taking dead aim against Christianity and now more than ever we are going to need to each other. We must watch about alienating ourselves through this potential “exclusivity” mindset. This does not mean we have to lower standards but it does mean to recognize the vastness of the body of Christ.
The Lord then turns to the subject of hell in verses 42-50. On at least five occasions the Lord uses the phrase “where the fire dieth not” and “their worm never dieth”. It is a sobering description of an eternity without Christ. He makes clear the danger of causing a “little one” who believes in Christ to stumble by way of an offense. A “little one” could represent a child or a child newly born into the kingdom. We must be very careful about what we say and how we live before others. It’s as if there has been a build-up to this moment because Jesus is looking to drive home the point of hell; that it is real and that it is to be avoided at all costs. Jesus first addressed the issue of greatness (vs 33-37) then answered John on the matter of the man casting out demons who was not part of their “exclusive” group (vs 38-39) then goes on to the subject of not causing others to be offended. If these root issues go unattended it could result in the consequences that the Lord speaks about regarding hell. We know from the gospels that Jesus speaks on hell on numerous occasions. The Lord was getting to the root of certain heart issues; He was in fact, teaching New Covenant principles.