Bible reading for weekend May 16.
"These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods." (Numbers 25:2)
CHANGE OF STRATEGY. Since the Moabites cannot face Israel in battle they resort to seduction. Satan has two main strategies in defeating God's people: a) outright hostility, accusation, or persecution (which engenders fear); or b) subtle deception, temptation, and enticement (which appeals to lust). In the ancient near east, the polytheistic religions were entwined with the rhythms of nature. To remind the deities to produce rain, crops, and fruitful reproduction, worshipers were allowed to celebrate with promiscuous sex. First, there would be offerings, then eating, drinking, and partying, and then pairing up with one another or with cult prostitutes. This may not be obvious in the text, but this is the reason one spear killed two people, being caught in the act (Num 25:8). As you can imagine -- and it's best not to -- this kind of religion was very attractive to many in Israel and led to countless problems through the centuries. This is one reason why the Israelites were to destroy all the pagan altars upon entering Canaan.
PAGANISM. Paganism then and now exalts sexuality merely as a part of nature. It is to be celebrated without hindrance from institutional boundaries. But God created our sexuality as a strong bond for covenant relationship (Gen 2:23-24) and for the nurture and stability of family (Gen 1:27-28). It involves a dedicated intimacy, with a mutual, life-long commitment. In reality, a community without those covenant boundaries -- and the enjoyment of sex within those boundaries -- begins to disintegrate (Prov 5:15-23). Drawing water from one's own well is better than water poured into the street. Our marriages are to reflect the covenant faithfulness of God. And God, who is the great covenant-keeper, is himself the judge in this matter (1 Thess 4:3-6; Heb 13:4). Like a fire in the fireplace, so sex is to be enjoyed within the boundaries of marriage.
GOD'S JEALOUSY. In verse 11 God says, "I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy." We may best define his jealousy as God's zeal to protect the truth about who he is and the relationship that we have with him. He would not have his people led astray (seduced) by lies about other gods, who do not in fact exist. He will not share his glory (who he is) or his wife (his people) with any other. He desires that his people know him as the only true and living God, and that they be preserved in covenant relationship to him. In human relationships what we call jealousy is often no more than envy or suspicion. There is a good kind of jealousy, however, when we seek to preserve proper relationships. As pastors, leaders, and parents we should be zealous to guard believers in the true worship of God (2 Cor 11:2-3).
A SECOND CENSUS takes place (Num 26). This is the second numbering in Numbers, after forty years in the wilderness and in preparation for entering the promised land.
"Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him!" (Psalm 68:4)
ENTHRONED. Scholars are divided on the meaning, setting, and use of this psalm in the life of Israel. There are many historical and geographical references, some obscure. But overall we can see it is a celebration of the reign of the Lord (Yahweh). He has redeemed his people from Egypt, brought them through the wilderness (he "rides through the deserts"), and is now enthroned among his people in Jerusalem. God's people no longer worship at Mount Sinai but at Mount Zion (see Heb 12:18-29). There are other rival mountains, so to speak, most notably Bashan (vv 15-16; where king Og was defeated, Num 21) but God has chosen to manifest his presence in Zion. The Lord's reign includes care for the poor (vv 5, 10; he is "Father of the fatherless..") and daily bearing the burden of his people (v 19; Isa 46:3) By his power we also help bear the burdens of others, thus fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). We serve a King who himself shoulders the burdens of others.
GIFTS OF HIS REIGN. The Apostle Paul alludes to this psalm (v 18) in Ephesians: "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men" (Eph 4:8). He emphasizes the giving of gifts rather than the receiving of them, but both actions would take place in conquest: tribute would be received from defeated foes, and rewards would be given to faithful troops. The gifts of the Spirit which we receive as believers in Christ have been won through Christ's conquest. After his resurrection Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt 28:18) As Abraham Kuyper once said, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” We should rejoice daily that our God reigns!
ZEAL FOR GOD'S HOUSE (Ps 69). This is a psalm of lament by King David, who is suffering reproach from his fellow Israelites, but not primarily because of his own wrong-doing (although he is aware of his own sin; v 5). Rather, he is looked down upon because he loves the Lord and has such zeal for God's worship at the temple (69:9). The disciples recognized this truth also about Jesus, that he loved his Father supremely and was zealous for his worship and honor (Jn 2:17). So, the rejection of Jesus reflected a rejection of God. As well, David's pronouncement of judgment (vv 22-23) is echoed by the Apostle Paul in his epistle (Rom 11:9-10). Not everyone who claims to be a part of the family of God is actually a true child of God, but rather, it is those who have zeal for the true worship and honor of God their Father.
Image credit: photo by Ricardo Cruz on Unsplash.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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