The Israelites have covered a lot of physical ground this week as they move closer to the promised land. They have left Mount Sinai and gotten as far as Kadesh Barnea. They have wandered on the Sinai Peninsula for nearly 40 years as the older and unfaithful generation died off in the wilderness. We have seen disobedience, grumbling, and God’s righteous anger. Moses has been faithful. Both Aaron and Miriam have died and been gathered up to their people. Eleazar has become the next high priest and Joshua has been commissioned as Moses’ successor. Spies have been sent into the promised land to check it out and the spies convinced the people they could never conquer the people and take the land. Hence the years of wandering in the wilderness. More laws have been given and the directions for festival celebrations and sacrifices have been repeated, lest we forget. We have read about two censuses, and the disobedience of both Moses and Aaron. There have been plagues and venomous serpents and a talking donkey. And these are just the high points.
What we do not read about is the day to day living of God’s people. The Israelites are not unlike us. They were tempted by any number of things. So are we. They tried to be their best selves in light of God’s expectations for them. So do we. Sometimes they messed up. We do too. They worshiped the Lord in word, deed, and name. We do that as well. They brought offerings for sacrifices to make atonement for their sins. We ask the Lord for forgiveness of our sins, but we do not have to bring sacrifices. Jesus made the last and final sacrifice needed for the atonement of the sins of all people. The unfortunate thing is, many want nothing to do with Jesus and will never know the weightlessness of having sins forgiven.
As you read there may be things that stand out for you. Perhaps those things are something you have not noticed before. Or maybe you are seeing them in a different light. Maybe the grace of God, that so many think is nonexistent in the Old Testament, has been shown to you. I read and am continually amazed by the disobedience of the Israelites. But we are no different. We might like to think so, but we sin just as the Israelites did.
When we read the story of Ballam and Balak I am reminded once again that God is a God of mercy and grace. When you read about the blessings God gave Balaam to pronounce on Israel they ooze with God’s love and concern for them. We read of how God has separated the Israelites from the other nations…His chosen people. And it brings to mind 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that you may declare the praises of Him who brought you out of the darkness and into His wonderful light.” Those are Peter’s words for you and me! We see in these oracles the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham for descendants as numerous as the dust on the ground. And they are right at the edge of the land God promised to give to Abraham’s ancestors. God is good. We read that God has already blessed these people, the Israelites, and anyone who chooses to curse them will be cursed. Balaam gives a recitation of the things God has done for the Israelites, including bringing them out of Egypt. And there is another prophecy of the long-promised and awaited Messiah. He will come from the tribe of Judah and He will rule over all nations.
Balaam and his talking donkey always make me smile. I talk to the dogs all the time, but they don’t answer unless I give them a voice. What really makes me smile is that Balaam doesn’t seem to think anything is strange about his donkey speaking to him. And he answers right back. Those kinds of actions here and now might earn you a one-way ticket to a padded room if the wrong people see us.
I wrote of this yesterday but what impresses me the most is the faithfulness and dedication of Moses. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites, listening to them grumble and complain, Moses still cares for them like a shepherd for his flock. And as he prepares to die and be gathered up to his people like his brother and sister, his only concern is for the succession of leadership for the Israelites. He recognized they could not succeed on their own. In fact, he knew it would be a challenge for them even with a good leader. God chose Joshua to be the successor of Moses. He was brought before the people and Eleazar and Moses commissioned him. Other than that one time, Moses did just as the Lord had commanded him. But that one time, beating on the rock for water instead of speaking to it, cost Moses a chance to enter into the promised land.
Moses’ journey might be coming to an end, but the Israelites are just getting started. Each of us is on our own faith journey. Some of us have been traveling a long time and others not so much. But regardless of where we are on the journey, we all have much to learn about our God and about ourselves. The good news is, God will walk every step of the way with us!
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.