In yesterday’s sermon, I referred to a list of helpful diagnostic questions to use to help keep from joining in the self-righteous hostility that has come to characterize the world around us. As I mentioned, these questions came from an article written by Dave Harvey. His article is worth reading in its entirety.
May we learn this lesson well.
I am praying for you,
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there. Numbers 35:9-15, ESV.
Why does God demand that Israel set up cities of refuge in the Promised Land? Gerard Van Groningen offers a threefold explanation:
First, the holiness of the Lord is to be maintained. The shedding of blood defiles the land. The Lord dwells among his people and will not tolerate willful defilement of his holiness. Second, mercy has to be shown. Not every person who kills another does so intentionally. Such a person has to have a means to escape the avenger of blood by fleeing to the nearest city of refuge and remaining in it until the death of the high priest in office at the time of the killing. Third, justice has to be carried out for the unintentional as well as the intentional murder. All human life is precious in the sight of the Lord. Anyone who destroys it has to forfeit his life at the hand of a family’s avenger of blood or give up a great measure of freedom by remaining in the city. If a murderer escapes to a city of refuge, and two or more witnesses testify to the intentional killing, by whatever means, the avenger has to destroy the murderer. Justice also requires that neither the unintentional nor intentional murder can be ransomed. Thus the rich and poor, as well as the native and stranger are dealt with impartially.
The city of refuge is a place where the holiness, mercy, and justice of the Lord meet. These cities provide a prophetic glimpse of Jesus on the cross. As Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, died in our place, a Holy God executed His justice on Him so that He might show mercy to us. That mercy is ours if we will but run in faith to His Son.
I pray that you have experienced that mercy. If not, I pray that you will trust in Jesus and find refuge today. To learn more, see http://www.ttownbaptist.org/how-can-i-be-saved.html.
 Gerard Van Groningen, “Numbers,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 105.
Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” Numbers 32:1-5, ESV
In the chapters before today’s passage, God commanded Moses to lead the people in battle against the Midianites. Moses obeyed and the people won a great victory. In chapter 32 we read of how, looking at the land they had just conquered, the tribes of Reuben and Gad see an opportunity. This land is good enough for them and their livestock. Maybe they can stay here and not bother with the whole Promised Land conquering thing.
In what follows, Moses rebukes these two tribes, comparing their desire to stay behind to the bad report of the spies who were afraid to enter the Promised Land. Reuben and Gad then propose to settle their families in this newly conquered land east of the Jordan but first send their troops to assist their fellow Israelites in conquering the Promised Land. They would have the land they desired, but only after fulfilling their commitment to the plan of God for His people.
The mindset of Rueben and Gad is a temptation for all of us. Here, on this side of the river, short of our eternal Promised Land, we see much that is good, much that lures us to linger where we are and enjoy. I believe God’s response to our desire would be much like His answer to the two tribes—something like, “You are indeed welcome to enjoy the blessings that come from living in the here and now, enjoying the victories I have given you in this life, but you must first commit to My plan for My people.”
God’s plan today is being worked out through His church as she goes into the world and makes Jesus-followers, brings them into the fold, and teaches them to follow Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20). The lure of the good things in this life is strong, but we must prioritize our commitment to this plan. Making disciples must come before enjoying the fruits of temporal victory. Similarly, we are called to do the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10) and love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39).
I pray that you will know many of the blessings of victory in this life. I also pray that you are resolved in your commitment, as were Rueben and Gad, to the work of God for the people of God.
Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. Numbers 30:1-2, ESV.
God’s people must be characterized by honesty and integrity. Their word should be their bond. In our era of ‘fake news’ and misleading headlines, we know that we cannot always trust what is passed off as fact in the media. In this political season, we have come to expect that many lies will be told in the pursuit of votes. Nonetheless, even in a world filled with lies, God’s people must be true to their word.
Psalm 15 asks and answers an important question, reminding us of the importance of integrity to those who desire to come to God in worship:
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
My prayer for you this day is that you will know the joy of being welcome in God’s presence as one who walks in integrity and honesty.
Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’ ” Numbers 27:1-11, ESV
Zelophehad dies as part of the wilderness generation. He had not taken part in the rebellion of Korah, thus his family inheritance remained intact. But Zelophehad has no sons to inherit. His daughters, desiring to preserve their family name and property, present their case for inheriting to Moses at the tabernacle. Their case has significant ramifications. Part of the inheritance will be territory in the Promised Land. Clan identity was, in a sense, a claim to the covenant with Israel. Moses goes to the Lord and the Lord endorses the sisters’ claim. A family will not lose its inheritance privileges if there are no sons. An inheritance order is established.
Why does this matter? It reveals that God is more committed to His covenant promises and His covenant people than He is to the strictest interpretation of the law. What a lesson for us to learn! We who consider ourselves conservative Christians tend to look at the commands of Christ and establish law upon law all around it to be sure we never come close to breaking the law. Or we strive to uphold the letter of the law at the cost of its intent and the character of the God who spoke it. In our desire for a black-and-white world, we can become legalistic tyrants.
The commands of Christ are real commands and we are to obey them. What we cannot do is turn into weapons for evil what God has intended for good. We must remember the greatest of commandments and its corollary, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39).
I pray today that love for God and your neighbor will rule your heart as you strive to follow Christ.