NUMBERS 25:1 – 27:23 and MARK 7:1–37
Israel is now camped at a place called Shittim which is one of the last recorded settlements before the crossing over Jordan. It is here where we see immorality taking place between the men of Israel and the Moabitish women. In addition, they began worshipping their gods. They joined themselves and aligned with Baal-peor (vs 3). What happened? For the past 38 years you see no record of this kind of breakdown in lawlessness among the people. It is only as Israel was on the verge of crossing over Jordan, on the verge of a new season in God’s calendar when such a violation takes place. How did it come to this? What was Balaam’s role? The Bible gives some insights as seen in the following verses.
Num 31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
2Pe 2:15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
Jud 1:11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.
In the previous chapter we saw the Spirit of God come upon Balaam in a prophetic mode. It could well be that he abused this anointing and found a way to counsel Balak in how he could get Israel to stumble. One would wonder how Balaam would ever allow himself to be used so adversely against God and Israel. Perhaps, he could be likened to people like Judas who never thought his covetousness would lead him to be the betrayer. After all, Balaam still had a prophetic gifting and he may have thought he could still have it both ways on his terms. This is very dangerous and we need to take note. Balaam, without the advice and counsel of a priest made assumptions as to what would be acceptable or allowed. He knew that he could not get God to curse Israel but he maneuverers a way to still court favor with Balak and yet project himself to be above the fray. He was respected, sought out and had prominence. When Balak told him to return to his place he should have done so. His counsel resulted in Israel trespassing against God. The consequence and resultant fallout is a costly one.
The Bible has been clear about the need to maintain separation. It is clearly seen through the functioning of the Tabernacle and related Levitical offerings. This had been the standard that they had lived by for the past 38 years.
Do you recall the events from Exo 32? The children of Israel rebelled against God where they made their own idols while becoming involved in all kinds of perverted practices. Yet, they still carried on as if nothing was wrong (Exo 32:6). Soon afterwards, the Lord cried out through Moses as to who was on the Lord’s side (Exo 32:26). The priesthood was distinguished at this point. Do you see similarities between Exo 32:1-6 and Num 25:1-3? It was the ill-tempered prophetic ministry of Balaam that made allowances for Israel to align with Moab. All of this is taking place at a most critical juncture. Why are we stressing this point? Well, what do you see happening today? I think we all agree we are living in the end times. This is the period that the prophets of old have spoken of through the ages. The new season that is about to engulf the church must be far greater than any other period known to man. If this is true, should we not take note of this account of Israel’s history? Is it not concerning when considering the breakdown of law in today’s society? Worse yet is the breakdown of standards seen in the church. If we were honest one could well conclude that Christendom today bears a striking resemblance to the congregations seen in Exo 32:1-6 and Num 25:1-3. How does this come about?
Balaam provided a stumbling block to Israel by way of his counsel. What do you think happens when God’s Laws become compromised? What do you think happens when over familiarity with the world begins creeping into the church? It will only be a matter of time before lawlessness explodes. Today, divorce and remarriage is sanctioned openly in the majority of churches. Is it any surprise that the divorce rate in the USA is higher in the church than even in the secular world? Today we see homosexuals being admitted into ministry positions. The new buzzword in many circles is “tolerance and acceptance”.
This is not meant to sound cruel because many would say where is the love, why are you so critical and judgemental? What about the love for God and His ways? Do not His Laws and Statues represent something to be esteemed and upheld? In our zeal to be tolerant and accepting are we not leaving the door wide open for lawlessness and evil to become more pervasive? Yes, of course we are to love sinners and reach out to them and teach them to have a hatred for the sin. I think most of us in the church would agree on this point.
What was it that Balaam did that opened this Pandora’s Box? He weakened the standard and made allowance for mixture to enter in. He violated the priestly laws of separation that kept Israel in check for the past 38 years. How does this translate into a modern day application? Personally, I feel it is a failure of the priesthood. The church slowly but surely has allowed for a weakening of standards resulting in a Balaam like atmosphere to take hold. This is the danger of an untempered prophetic ministry. We need to learn and observe these events surrounding the life and ministry of Balaam. He could never let go of the lust for recognition, prestige, covetousness and power.
The resultant immorality was abhorrent to God and he instructed Moses to immediately judge the situation. He quickly responded, gathered the people to weep and cry out for mercy so as to try and assuage the anger of the Lord (Num 25:6). This is another example that supports a well-known Biblical verse:
2Ch 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
While Moses and a group of people were weeping and seeking mercy for this transgression an Israelite man and Midianite woman blatantly flaunted their sin before the camp. This is a defining moment and one we need to note. Remember, earlier when Moses was receiving God’s Law from his hand; (Exo 31:18) it was at the same time when Israel was idol worshipping and committing immorality at the base of Mt. Sinai. Two very clear extremes taking place simultaneously. Who is on the Lord’s side? We now see two clear extremes occurring side by side once again. We see Moses and a group of people lamenting and crying out for the sin in the camp while at the same time an open and blatant display of sin is being openly displayed by this couple. Who is on the Lord’s side? We see a priest by the name of Phineas who was filled with the zeal of the Lord taking matter into his own hands. He took a long spear and with full force thrusted it through the belly of both the man and woman. Isn’t Phineas being judgmental? Where was the love and tolerance in Phineas? Can we even catch a glimpse of what this scene must have looked like? When the cry went out in Exo 32:26 as to “Who is on the Lord’s side” it were the Levites who responded. This resulted in them receiving the privilege and office of the priesthood. It is here in the midst of gross sin when a priest by the name of Phineas responds. He literally put a sword to his brethren (Exo 32:27). Remember, the Lord’s Words in Mathew’s Gospel.
Mat 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
Mat 10:35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
Mat 10:36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
We see Phineas executing judgment in a swift and dramatic way. How did God view this action?
Num 25:11 Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.
Num 25:12 Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:
Num 25:13 And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
Did you notice that after Phineas used the sword the Lord established a covenant of peace with him? Compare with Math 10:34 where the Lord said I have not come to send peace but a sword. The Word of God is likened to a two-edged sword that cuts deep, separating the soul from the spirit of a man (Heb 4:12). Our problem today is that we view everything through the lens of the soul. It has consequences for non-priests to have their lives governed this way but how much more when the priests fall prey to this tactic. This is how the serpent seduced Eve; it was through the lens of the soul. This is how Balaam was eventually used by the enemy to cause Israel to stumble; it was through the lens of the soul. It took a priest, a man who understood God, a man who took great umbrage at what was taking place, a man who understood that his nation was on the brink of a mighty move that propelled him to execute God’s judgment in such a dramatic way. Phineas saw the big picture and as a result he became the instrument that pacified God’s displeasure and anger at what was taking place. Phineas is a picture of Christ who would one day pacify the wrath of an angry God by becoming the Passover Lamb upon the cross.
It’s true, the sword cuts deep and it does hurt. It is not easy taking certain positions where standards are upheld. There are people today who are in very difficult situations who need support and encouragement in their ordeal. At the same time we must always uphold the standards and absolutes of God. The tragic result of compromise within the church cannot be understated. We can camouflage these standards by seeking out loopholes, finding exceptions or focusing exclusively on the emotional aspects of a case. If we learn to honor God and uphold his standards, even at great personal cost, He is more than faithful to compensate and help minister a healing balm to those in need. What Balaam did in his day is happening before us today. This is the bottom line point I feel to emphasize. It happens when the Word and standards of God become watered down. Balaam could not go against God but he found a way to obtain his objective by circumventing God’s law regarding separation. This is what set the stage for Phineas. We need to pray that we too would have the zeal of a Phineas who takes righteous indignation against the sin of compromise within the church. This is why Phineas was given the promise of an everlasting priesthood. It is meant for our instruction; it is meant to showcase to the church of the last days the manner of priest that must emerge.
This chapter highlights the 2nd census that was taken in addition to the allotting and dividing of the inheritance that would take place. The fruits of this census are a fulfilment of the promise that God made to Abraham in Gen 15:8, 18-21. This census also confirmed that the men and soldiers who were over the age of 20 at the first taking of the census have passed on. This was a confirmation of the Word of the Lord to Moses when Israel failed to enter their inheritance at Kadesh Barnea (Num 13). In other words we can say that the 603,548 men who were over the age of 20 taken from the first census died before the age of 58. One cannot help but marvel as to the preciseness of God’s Word.
In verse 1-11 we have the case of the daughters of Zelophehad. Their father had died in the wilderness and they saw that there was no apportioning of an inheritance for them as confirmed from the allotting of land in Num 26:6-51. Moses brought their case before the Lord and the Lord confirmed their plight.
We will later see the daughters of Zelophehad settle into their inheritance under Joshua’s leadership in Canaan (Josh 17:5-6). In verses 12-14 the Lord speaks to Moses to begin to make preparations for his passing (vs 12-14). He gives him an opportunity to see the land but again reminds him as to why he will not have the privilege of entering into it. Moses did not honor or sanctify the Lord in this account at Meribah.
Once again we can see that there was considerable activity taking place at this time, both in the natural and the spiritual. There is something about the things of God that must be jealously guarded when God is on the move. We saw it with Moses when he struck the rock twice and we just saw it with Balaam. His uncircumcision of heart led to the instruction and allowance of how Israel could be made to stumble. I share these things with the understanding that similar dynamics are at work today albeit on a much higher level. In verses 15-23 the Lord instructs Moses to prepare for his successor. He was to set Joshua before the priest Eleazar in front of the entire congregation so that everyone knows who the next appointed leader is going to be. Notice in verse 21 that Joshua is to take counsel from the priest concerning guidance and direction. This is a very good picture of one of the roles of a true priest. Balaam was a prophet who was pretty much a one man show. He had authority, a reputation and a measure of understanding of God. It was the priestly office that finally settled the matter at Baal-Peor. A true priest would have never made the allowances as seen in Balaam’s counsel that resulted in their immorality. As stated earlier, the damage of Balaam’s ministry extends far beyond his day. We are warned of his doctrine in the Book of Revelation. Joshua will represent a new generation of leadership. He will have a message of circumcision of heart before going forth to conquer. He was one who was faithful throughout the leadership of Moses. He, like Caleb was also a man of a different spirit when everyone else failed to give heed to God’s Word (Num 14:22-24). Joshua is the ideal candidate to lead God’s people forward into their inheritance and beyond.
The Lord immediately takes issue with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as they continue to anchor themselves in their traditions. We can see they (The Pharisees) are now in fault-finding mode. This is dangerous and we ourselves must be careful. A fault finding mentality is often times rooted in pride. It exults and lifts up self at the expense of another’s so called shortcoming. A “fault-finding” mentality can also serve as a cover-up or smokescreen to the revelation of Truth. When Truth is presented it always generates a response. One can acknowledge Truth or one can dismiss it, avoid it or try to hide from it. When the Lord confronted Adam about the Truth of the tree how did he respond? Did he acknowledge Truth? No, he shifted blame and sought to fault-find through his wife and even God (Gen 3:12). In verses 1-13 we see a discourse between Jesus and the Pharisees on the subject of the traditions of men. Jesus was making the case that Truth comes from within. Who we are comes by what we are like inside, not by external works. The Lord is after Truth in the inward parts.
Psa 51:6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
In verses 14-23 the Lord builds upon this foundation by making clear that what is within the heart of man is what really matters. Once again, the Pharisees are merely challenging the New Covenant reality of what Jesus was teaching. The New Covenant is the writing and establishing of God’s Law upon the fleshly table of the heart. Man was seeking to live by externals which again were only a cover-up of the real work God is looking to do within. The Lord then goes on to list several issues of the heart that need to be addressed (vs 21-22). If Jeremiah had a revelation of how wicked his heart was then what about us today? It is when we embrace and uphold God’s Law and standards that we begin to get a picture of the capacity of our heart. It is also here where we see its remedy. It is in the acknowledgement of Truth. It is in the knowing and embracing of Truth where we are truly set free (John 8:31-32). Soon after this discourse the Lord delivers the daughter of a Syrophenician woman from demonic bondage as well as the healing of a deaf man who had troubled speech (vs 25-35). Once again the Lord seeks to not publicize these accounts but it cannot be helped. His fame and reputation continued to grow.
One cannot help but marvel as to how Jesus can flow between events. One moment he is being challenged by the religious on doctrinal matters and then can be quickly found ministering in healing and deliverance. What a beautiful flow of the anointing upon His life. This can only be achieved from a “Position of Rest”. Jesus met with the Father early in the morning to be refreshed and prepared for the day’s work ahead. It was also a time where He was able to receive fresh guidance. He had an open heaven and it is a picture of what can be available for the church of the last days. Can we take a step out of life’s daily current and flow and allow the Lord to speak to us? This subject of Rest and the Sabbath is a recurring one and I feel it to have significant relevance for our day. Lord, teach us how to Labour into the True Rest (Heb 4:10-11).