March 28

March 28

How to Raise Children — Parents should obey the Word & teach the Word.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Deuteronomy 6:6-25

Reading 2: Deuteronomy 11

Reading 3: 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Today we see the connection between God’s Word and our relationship with Him. He is like a parent, who gives His Word to help his children obey Him, and live according to His values and priorities. In this way they are kept safe from the perils of sin and disobedience.

Those of us who are parents are to do the same – obey God’s Word ourselves and teach our children to follow His instruction. There are blessings ahead of us if we do so, and droughts if we do not. The same is true for our children. In this way God can ensure continuity of blessing through the generations. He described Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (in other words the God of each successive generation). God’s Word is the means by which blessing flows from generation to generation. And it is the responsibility of each successive generation to keep the instructions given and to pass them on to their children.

Already Moses is speaking to Israelites who have not seen the mighty things God did from the Exodus to the Promised Land; those who do remember have a duty to pass on the record of God’s faithfulness and power to those who come after them. Then those descendants will likewise follow God.

Every one of us is a child to someone, so God’s instruction applies to us – read the Word and remember His goodness. And for those of us still raising children, we are to teach them to do the same. Many of us have done this, and now our children are adults. It is tempting to fret over whether they are following God’s instructions, but that is to step into their boundaries. The most effective way to ensure our children follow God is to follow Him wholeheartedly ourselves (and to tell our children of His faithfulness as we do)!

Have a great day!

Mark.

March 27

March 27

The Shema & the First Commandment — God is one, love God, & keep God’s commandments.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Deuteronomy 6:1-5

Reading 2: Mark 12:28-34

Reading 3: John 14:21-24

Moses continues his summary of the teaching God has given Israel through him, and today we see the foundational statement of the Jewish faith – the Shema.

“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.”

Literally: “Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

Interestingly, the word echad means unity in diversity, leaving room for “three in one” as revealed by Jesus on several occasions in the gospels. There is a different word for “uniquely singular” in Hebrew – yachid.

You can read more at this website.

At the Last Supper, Jesus refers to His Father and to the Holy Spirit when He tells His disciples that love is the foundational principle of the Godhead, and of relationship with God. And love is expressed in action – lived out in obedience – just as Moses said when he compiled the teaching God had revealed to him to guide the Israelite nation.

As you love God with all your heart, you will find yourself obeying Him more fully and more freely. May that be so today.

Have a great day!

Mark.

March 25

March 25

The Story of their Wandering — Reviewing Israel’s history & the Word of God.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Deuteronomy 1

Reading 2: Deuteronomy 2

Reading 3: Deuteronomy 4:1-14

Today’s reading draws together many of the stories we have studied in recent weeks. It is Moses’ summary of the journey from Exodus to Promised Land. It makes encouraging reading if you trace the journey of obedience, and sobering reading if you follow the results of disobedience!

Notice how Moses leads, giving absolute priority to God’s instruction, gathering the wisdom and teaching God has given and presenting it to the people. They have a choice – to embrace the wisdom of God or to follow their own instincts. Remember sin will always lead us away from God, but God created us to be drawn TO Him.

Today’s reading is also an opportunity to reiterate that God is a loving God. Although there is much violence and judgment in the history of Israel to date, it is in response to sin, and for the purpose of rooting it out. Just as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery are violent and harmful, yet can be life-giving to those fighting cancer.

God is a covenant God – choosing to bless, and longing for those who will love Him and enter into relationship with Him. Let’s be those people today!

Have a great day!

Mark.

March 24

March 24

Phinehas & Baal-Peor — Israel’s sin against God & Phinehas’ passion for God.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Numbers 25

Reading 2: Psalm 106:24-31

Reading 3: Revelation 2:14

Yesterday we saw Balaam trying to help the King of Moab, while also maintaining the appearance of being a follower of the God of Israel. Today we see the result of that duplicity. Revelation 2:14 tells us that Balaam showed Balak how to get Israel to sin (and thus to open themselves up to the consequences of sin).

The Moabites were distant cousins of the Israelites, descended from Lot through his incest with his daughters. They worshipped the god Chemosh by offering human sacrifices, and honored other gods (baals) by associating them with various places in Moab (such as Baal-Peor in today’s chapter).

So the Israelite men were invited to join in these sacrifices and then defiled themselves further by having sex with the Moabite women. It was the ancient equivalent of coming to Myrtle Beach for a week of golf with the guys, then going to a “gentlemen’s club” and hiring a prostitute.

God had already commanded Israel to keep themselves pure, and to not associate with the nations in the land, so this was out and out rebellion against God. And consequently there were severe repercussions. A plague broke out, killing thousands, yet a man of Israel brought a Midianite woman to his tent (the Midianites were allied with the Moabites and the Amorites in resistance to the Israelite advance).

Phinehas has great zeal for purity in obedience to God, and spears both the man and the woman in their sin. This zeal is commended by God.

So all this violence has a lesson to teach us. Wholehearted devotion to God is vital if we are to avoid the consequences of compromise. There will always be temptations to sin, but a passion for God will cause us to overcome.

Have a great day!

Mark.

March 23

March 23

Balaam & the Donkey — King Balak’s offer to the prophet Balaam & Balaam’s greed.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Numbers 22

Reading 2: Numbers 23

Reading 3: 2 Peter 2:15-16

Today we read the story of Balaam and the donkey.

On face value the story seems strange, and a little confusing. First God says “Don’t go,” then God says “Go but only say what I say.” Did God change His mind? That would be inconsistent with what we read of God’s nature in other places. God blocks Balaam’s path to stop him going, after God has said he can go, and then his donkey speaks! And Balaam seems quite happy to have an argument with his animal, without questioning how the beast can speak!

Throughout the story there is money changing hands as Balaam seeks to co-operate with a known enemy of God’s people. Clearly there is, at best, a mixed motive at work here.

Although our title refers to Balaam as a prophet, it is not clear from the chapters we read that he was truly a prophet. Rather he seems to be a greedy man who is trying to “have his cake and eat it” by maintaining the appearance of devotion to God as well as seeking to have God comply with his own path to wealth.

If you read one more verse beyond our set reading for today (Numbers 24:1) you will see that Balaam was using divination to get his “words from God.” Certainly he speaks some truths from God (where his words line up with God’s stated purposes for Israel) but we must be careful not to assume he is speaking godly truth at all times. Rather, it is likely the opposite is true when we consider his motivation.

For more on this, I suggest you read the article on Balaam from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia which gives some helpful insights.

When we read Peter’s letter, we see the facts stated plainly: Balaam loved to earn money by doing wrong. Here is a warning for all of us. The love of money is the root of all evil, and seeking to acquire wealth by any means is the fastest path to sin. Instead, God wants us to follow Him wholeheartedly, and allow Him to add to that devotion everything else we need.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)

Have a great day!

Mark.

March 22

March 22

The Bronze Serpent — Israel’s complaints, God’s judgment, & Christ on the cross.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Numbers 21:1-9

Reading 2: John 3:14-17

Reading 3: 1 Corinthians 10:5-12

I think it is reasonable to assume that most of us want to please God. But the way we seek to please God matters. And we will do well to recognize that pleasing God is not natural to us – it is supernatural, and thus is a gift from God. Today we read three short accounts that give us insights into this challenge, and illuminate the tension between our desire for God and our natural, sinful tendency to turn away from Him.

The Israelites again show us an unpleasant reflection of our sinful propensities: God blesses them with victory over their enemies, but they have to make a detour on their journey because they are treated unfairly by those who should be their friends. On the way, they become impatient (again) and complain against God, and against Moses. They constantly come back to the theme of food, preferring the tastes they had to slave for, over the miraculous provision of God.

I’m sure you don’t fall into this temptation, but I know how easy it is to look at the daily ups and downs of life, and complain about them, while overlooking the constant, miraculous activity of God. Lord have mercy on us!

The result of their rebellious complaining is that they fall prey to poisonous snakes, symbolizing the way that earthly-mindedness bites us and ultimately causes spiritual death. But God instructs Moses to make a replica of a snake and hold it up on a pole, saying that whoever is bitten and looks to the snake will be saved. In the same way, our Lord Jesus was born as a man, and lifted up on a pole (the cross) and now anyone who looks to Him is saved from the deadly jaws of sinful thinking and action.

Remember that the purpose of the snakes was to expose the complaining, and to dramatize the consequence of turning our backs on God. God’s desire is always that we turn away from sin to be saved by Him. Jesus told us clearly that God’s priority is salvation NOT judgment. Judgment is only for the purpose of prompting repentance and salvation, in the same way that seeing a blue flashing light makes us watch our driving habits more closely!

Thank God for the warnings that help us to turn back to thoughts and actions that please God – that is where we find salvation, and the freedom for which we were created.

Have a great day!

Mark.

March 21

March 21

Striking the Rock Twice — Moses’ anger with Israel & Christ the rock (struck once at the cross).

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Numbers 20

Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

Reading 3: James 1:19-20

I love how frank the Bible is when representing the truth about the heroes of faith. David was an adulterer and murderer, Abraham was a liar, Moses was a murderer, and so on! Today we read how Moses allowed his anger with Israel to overflow into disobedience to God.

Previously when water was scarce, God told Moses to strike a rock and water gushed out. This time, God instructed Moses to take his staff and speak to a rock. We don’t know why the instruction was different, but we can surmise it was to show that God was not to be presumed upon; much as a parent, when asked for a dollar, might tell their child to earn it one day, and give it another day, to suit the lesson the parent wanted the child to learn. Whatever the reason, the instruction was different. But Moses was angry with the people for their constant rebellious grumbling. He could have said: “you are rebelling against God but in His mercy God will give you water anyway” and then spoken to the rock as God instructed. Instead Moses shouted “Listen, you rebels!” “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then he struck the rock as he had done before, and water gushed out.

It is hard to blame Moses for his actions because the people of Israel were so stubborn and rebellious. If you have ever tried to lead a group of people (whether an office team, or a home-owners’ association, or even a community group Bible study) you will likely have encountered this phenomenon at some point. We are all wired by sin to complain and grumble against authority (including God) when things don’t go the way we want. Everyone is selfish to some degree, but the Israelites appear to have refined it into an art! Yet Moses has the burden of leading them! But he and Aaron pay the penalty for this disobedience: they lose the right to lead Israel into the Promised Land. James had some good wisdom on this when he wrote: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” and advised his readers: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

When Paul tells the Corinthians that the rock is Christ, he gives us the key to understanding why the penalty for Moses and Aaron is not stronger. They are not burned by fire or swallowed by the ground, as other rebels had been. Instead, because Moses is striking Jesus (who would be struck again in His trial and crucifixion) there is mercy and grace in the picture already.

And for us today – even when we DO get angry, there is forgiveness if we repent. And repentance consists of confessing the sin and turning away from it (repeatedly if necessary) until a new habit, rooted in the righteousness of Jesus, replaces the old habit of sinful anger.

Be encouraged today that the Bible is full of people like you and me, yet God is showing us all the way to Jesus through their actions (failings and all).

Have a great day!

Mark.

March 20

March 20

The Priests & Tithing — The people tithe 10% & the priests tithe 10%.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Numbers 18

Reading 2: Deuteronomy 14:22-29

Reading 3: Malachi 3:8-12

After the rebellions and judgments of the past few readings, today God gives more instructions to the people of Israel about the form and structure of their worship. As a people chosen by God they are to put God first in all their worship and in their everyday lives. The connection between those two is the tithe – the first portion (tenth) of their increase belongs to God and is brought to the priests and Levites. This prioritizes God’s place in providing for them and directing their nation.

In turn the Levites give the best tenth of those offerings to Aaron and the priests to give to God. All these offerings are central to their worship and devotion, weaving an integral connection between God, the people, and their livelihoods. When God asks for your money it is not to take from you but to give to you. He doesn’t need our money, but He does want our lives! The tithe is a key part of us saying “yes” to Him – our worship of the One who gives us everything.

Have a blessed day!

Mark.

March 18

March 18

Aaron’s Rod — God chooses the tribe of Levi, & fruitfulness proves God’s choice.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Numbers 17

Reading 2: Numbers 1:47-54

Reading 3: Luke 6:43-45

We saw yesterday how Aaron’s intercession saved many in Israel from the consequences of their continuing rebellion. Today God vindicates Aaron and the tribe of Levi by a miracle.

Moses has each tribe bring a staff to the tabernacle where they are labeled and left in God’s presence overnight. The next morning, there are 11 staffs and one branch with leaves, buds, blossoms and ripe almonds! All this from a piece of wood which presumably had long since left its original place in a tree!

Thus God re-affirms His choice of Levi as the tribe to care for the Tabernacle and protect the people from God’s anger when they sin. The reading from Numbers 1 reminds us of God’s original instructions, and the reading from Luke 6 makes clear that fruitfulness is the measure of a person – because fruit shows what the heart contains.

May your heart be full of God’s love today, and may you bear much good fruit through Him!

Have a great day!

Mark.

 

March 17

March 17

Korah, Dathan, & Abiram — Complaining about Moses & God’s judgment.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Numbers 16

Reading 2: Psalm 106:9-18

Reading 3: Jude 10-11

Today’s passages continue to make for sobering reading: One of the Levites (Korah), despite being chosen for service at the Tabernacle, decided that he wanted the position of priest. This shows that he saw that position as more important than his own, being motivated by pride to seek a “higher” position. In truth, his role in the nation was set by God, and he would have been wise to accept God’s assignment and submit to God’s wisdom.

Korah conspires with three other men from the tribe of Reuben (Dathan, Abiram, and On) to rebel against the leadership of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron. Pride will always seek to draw others to follow in the path of rebellion and striving for position.

We see the same characteristics in the fall of satan and the angels he drew to him in his rebellion against God.

Rabbinical literature identifies Dathan and Abiram as the two men fighting in Egypt who caused Moses to flee. We have no proof of this in the Bible, but the possibility is interesting – if true they have been Moses’ adversaries for decades!

Our reading in Psalm 106 gives us more insight into the motives of these men and their 250+ followers: they were jealous of Moses (the most humble man on earth) and envious of Aaron (who never wanted to be Priest anyway)! Notice the humility of both Moses and Aaron – rather than flaunting their authority and forcing the men to back down, rather they intercede for them with God.

Nevertheless, they all continue in their proud resistance to God’s order and suffer the consequences. Dathan and Abiram are swallowed up with their families as the earth gives way beneath their tents, and Korah and his 250 followers are burned to death while offering incense (the job of priests) without God’s appointment to that role.

Notice how pride and seeking position is infectious – the jealousy and envy of the rebels spreads to the rest of the nation, and they start to grumble against Moses and Aaron even though they have seen the result of such sinful behavior.

In blaming the leaders God has appointed, the people are really blaming God, and if Aaron had not rushed out among them at Moses’ instruction with incense (symbolizing prayer to God on their behalf) the death toll would have been much higher.

For us, the sacrifice of Jesus means that such dramatic outbreaks of God’s power against rebellion no longer occur. There has been a toning down of the response to sin through grace. From satan being cast out of heaven irrevocably, to the rebels in Israel being killed, there is a major decrease in severity. And now that severity has been further decreased because all sin can be forgiven in Jesus when there is repentance. God is leaving more and more room for us to turn away from sinful behavior.

But this does not mean that God is soft on sin. And jealousy, envy, striving for position, and grumbling against authority are all still sins! Let us allow God to search our own hearts (and maybe our text messages and Facebook news feeds too) to convict us of sin and draw us to repentance. Repentance is a sincere turning away from sinful choices in light of God’s immense grace to us in Jesus. As Jude might say – don’t follow your instincts (they lead you into sin and pride) but let grace change you wholeheartedly.

You are a recipient of that grace today, and every day!

Have a great day!

Mark.