Monday, 3 March 2014

(63) March 4: Numbers 30-31 & Mark 9:30-50

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider how you would justify these events to a sceptic.

To ponder:
The section on worship concludes with limits on vows that reflect the particular responsibility and authority given to men within Israelite households. The principle is that oaths are binding and so should not be made rashly. Jesus makes just this point: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything beyond that comes from the evil one.” (Matt 5v37)
            A woman is exempt from keeping her vow if she is in her father’s house and he forbids it, or married and her husband forbids it. However if these men say nothing, they confirm the oath. If they forbid it much later, they are responsible for the women’s guilt in then breaking it. The fact that the vows of widowed or divorced women stand, show these laws don’t suggest women are not spiritually mature or responsible enough to make oaths. Rather, they seek to maintain order within households. They remind us of the need to consider not just ourselves, but those close to us in the commitments we make. And they look to the NT call for Christian wives to submit to their husbands, and husbands to lovingly embrace their responsibility for their families (Eph 5v22-33).
            Chapter 31 is obviously hard reading. It is clear the destruction of the Midianites in Moab (there were others elsewhere) is Moses’ last act of obedience and God’s command, bringing his judgement on them for leading Israel into immorality and idolatry. However, God does not show partiality. He has already put 24,000 Israelites to death for this sin (Num 25), and promises that even Moses is about to die for his. So God regards doing what is right according to his holiness and justice as more important than human life. And he considers leading people away from him as particularly serious. Jesus taught it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around one’s neck! (Lk 17v1-3)
            Throughout God’s orderliness is also displayed in organising the army and in the tithes. A thousand men from each tribe enter battle with Eleazar’s son and articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets. They signify God’s presence (10:9). Every Midianite man, including Balaam, is killed. However, Moses rebukes the commanders for saving the women, because they were the ones who sinned with Israel. We learn too, that it was Balaam who enticed them to. All the boys and sexually active women are therefore killed. These women might have been pregnant, so this ended Midianite descent, but also safeguarded Israel against being led astray again by the women, or by Midianite husbands when the boys grew up. The girls are allowed to remain and marry the soldiers. They therefore become part of the covenant people of God, and so share in their coming blessings in the land.
            Despite this all being God’s will, the men and their equipment has become unclean from contact with dead bodies, and so must be properly purified. Moreover, a tithe “for the LORD” is to be given from the spoils. From the soldiers’ half, one in five hundred people and various animals is given to the priesthood. From the people’s half, one in fifty is given to the Levites. The detail is meticulously recorded to show all was done “as the LORD commanded,” but also because the spoil was part of Israel’s inheritance. And in acknowledgement that “not one” soldier went missing, the commanders brought an extra offering of “gold articles” acquired “to make atonement.” This was a “memorial for the Israelites” (31v54), and so reflected the commanders’ awareness of Israel’s sins – perhaps with the Midianites.
Praying it home:
Thank God that through Christ he has pacified his great anger at us because of our sin. Pray for his help to appreciate the righteousness of his holiness, justice and wrath.

Thinking further:
Later we will see God commanding that Israel destroy absolutely everything with respect to the nations in Canaan itself. This event is different. It comes not as the judgement on the Canaanites God predicted to Abraham (Gen 15v16-21), and which would require absolute annihilation so that Israel are not harassed in the land or enticed from the Lord. This was specifically God’s “vengeance” on the Midianites for their sin with Israel. Vengeance, ie. “retribution” is seen negatively today, partly because we consider justice to be predominantly about rehabilitation, and retribution to be uncontrolled and stemming from erratic, unreasonable and self-centred anger. However, God’s anger and so vengeance reflects his righteousness and so is utterly controlled, fitting and pure. Nevertheless, as this event shows, it is also terrifying, revealing how serious sin is - especially that which leads people from the Lord. It should therefore move us to cling to Christ.

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