Monday, March 9, 2020

Stern Words for Those Who Sin

In our previous verses in the Book of Numbers, we hear Joshua warning the people not to rebel against God.  In the verses from Hebrew, we learn that a “hardening of the heart” is a very serious matter and that obedience to God is essential if we call ourselves Christians. 

Let’s summarize Joshua’s argument to the people: 

·         The land is good
·         If God is pleased with us, He will lead us into it and it will be ours
·         Don’t rebel against the Lord
·         Don’t fear the people living in the land
·         We will conquer them
·         The Lord is with us, not them
·         Have no fear

After all God did for them, in one of the most powerful countries on earth—Egypt—they should view entering the Promised Land as a walk in the park.  But no.  They want to stone Joshua and Company.
That’s what fearful, desperate, sinful people do:  they excuse themselves, accuse others and demand some sort of quick fix to their problems. 

If Joshua had any co-dependent leanings, he would have kicked into high gear and sought to downplay what he said (even though it is all truth) and then create his own fix to help them.  But he didn’t.  He stood his ground, along with the other leaders.  But the people, instead of repenting, hardened their hearts even further and resolve to kill the leaders by stoning them. That’s when God shows up.  The people grumbling progressing to threatening murder has brought Him to the Tent of Meeting and a face to face with Moses.  The people have stepped over the line and God is angry:

Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Numbers 14:10-12)

I picture Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua all standing together, facing what is quickly becoming a mob with a mob mentality.  Moses sees God’s glory descending upon where Moses directly meets with God and he rushes over there, to hear God’s words.  Moses is now doubly appalled: He hears God’s anguished and angry words regarding the treason spoken by the people, and how He will select Moses to be the new ancestor of the Jewish people.  The descendants of the original patriarchs—Abraham, Issac and Jacob and the covenant God made with them—will be wiped from the face of the earth.  But Moses knows that the covenant God made is irrevocable, and so he gently reminds God of His reputation:

Moses said to the Lord, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, “The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.”

Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: "The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now." (Numbers 14:13-19)

God hasn’t forgot His covenant with the fathers of the Jewish nation.  He wants to see if Moses really understands Who God is.  God’s reputation as a mighty Wonder is heard throughout the surrounding lands; Moses wants God to know that He is respected and feared by others, even if His own children fail Him.  Moses praises God’s fairness, and asks Him to forgive even a rebellious, ungrateful people.  Moses has truly learned Who God is, even if those he leads have hardened hearts and think only of themselves.

How often do we forget God's goodness in our lives and succumb to the thinking of others?  We listen to others' complaint and start to find ourselves thinking:

·         My life sucks
·         God is unpredictable
·         God has abandoned me
·         I have to do everything for myself
·         No one loves me
·         God doesn’t love me
·         You are the only one who understands me
·         My life is so hard
·         It’s not my fault; it’s these people’s fault: ___________________
·         God is testing me
·         I am the victim here, so don’t talk about sin to me!
·         I don’t have a hardened heart; I have the right to be angry, unforgiving and mean—other people deserve it!

If we really spend time with God, praying, reading His Word, desiring to go deeper and wanting more and more of Him, we will be tested by others who deny the truth we bring them, and who want us to believe that how they see the world is truly correct; we are simply ignorant and misinformed. Moses is being tested by the people’s rejection of all they have seen and experienced in this journey with God.  Moses reaffirms what is true about God.  He also intervenes, and asks God to remember that although the people deserve punishment, God should forgive them, as He has all along, because of His great love. 

Wow. Don’t you hear Jesus in all of this?  Although we deserve punishment, He advocates for us, and intercedes with His Father to show us His great love.  Jesus knows our weakness and wants only the best for us.  But sin has consequences.  God’s love is a fierce love, but it is a love that knows if He ignores sin and its consequences, His people will never seek to live righteous lives.  God is not willing to give His people a “Get Out of Jail Free” card every time they sin.  He will forgive them, yes, but He wants the sin to be a teacher.

When we are taught by the consequences of sin, it molds our character like nothing else can.  We become more aware of just how serious sin really is, how deceptive it is and how we are destroyed by it over time if we do not turn away and seek God and Him alone.  We come to learn that no sin is worth the absence of God’s presence; God wants Him to be our all and all.  

God goes ahead and forgives His people, one more time, and He does not destroy them.  But, He will use their disobedience to teach them to revere Him:

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”  (Number 14:20-25)
God honors His covenant He made to the people’s ancestors—that the Promised Land will be possessed by the people of God; but contempt for God is something He cannot ignore.  He bars those people from going into the land.  He also warns Moses that the local people living in the valleys will be a danger to them; God directs them to another route.  Is God being excessively harsh?  What are some possible ways He could have punished them more harshly?

·         He could have destroyed the people then and there for their contemptuous behavior
·         He could have no longer provided water and food in this barren desert
·         He could have the inhabitants of the land attack and massacre them (they are slaves, remember, not warriors)
·         He could have separated the disobedient people like goats away from the others, and led just their children and the leaders into the Promised Land, allowing the people to perish from lack of water and food

So, God even in His wrath, extends mercy.  He now tells Moses:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.  As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness.  Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.” (Numbers 14:26-35)

God is allowing the natural aging process to take the people out.  They will fall one by one over time, and then their children will go into the land.  Why has God taken this course of action?  Because the parents may now instruct their children every day about the seriousness of sin.  God is using the consequences of the people’s contempt for Him and their ungrateful and hardened hearts to teach their children how to appreciate and praise God.  Nothing "unhardens" our hearts quicker than realizing how our sin got us here.  It may take a awhile to come to this realization; at first, I am sure the people were unwilling to admit their fault.  But day after day, walking in the hot sun, thinking about the bounty in the Promised Land, made them realize the only reason they are not there now is because of them and them alone. Every year, for forty years, as these people celebrate the feasts laid out in Leviticus, they will be reminded of how God vanquished the Egyptians; how He provides for them daily; how sin bars the way to God and how the blood of an innocent animal washes that sin away; how Moses intervenes for his people and how God loves them, despite them showing contempt for His provision.

OK, CoDeWo’s, how does this apply to us?  We may be unintentionally helping people avoid the seriousness of their behavior’s consequences.  They may be actively sinning, or have a sinful attitude, and we step in, trying to take away the pain.  But those forty years in the desert for God’s people was one big schoolhouse, where parents could teach their children and humble themselves before God. 
When we intervene into people’s lives who have been careless and sinful, we take them out of the schoolhouse that God would have used to remold their character into insightful and mature people. 
Take away the consequences and you take away the possibility of learning from those consequences. 

Let me give you an example.  I had a friend many years ago that I consider a good friend.  Our daughters played together and I babysat her kids and vice versa. We went to church together.  We were both stay-at-home moms.  When I first met her, she lived in a nice mobile home, in a nice mobile home park.  She and her husband had had marital problems, and as part of their reconciliation, he had bought this mobile home in this town, and she relocated, where they restarted their life together.

He was an amazingly talented musician.  He harbored some animosity against me, for the pastor had selected me, not him, to be the worship leader.  His maturity level and his humility were both not conforming to taking on a leadership role.  But we all still got along, and I helped him get gigs, so he could share his music.  One day, she and I were sitting in her living room, and I heard a noise outside.  Someone was repossessing their car.  She seemed undisturbed by it.

She became pregnant with their third child and was very ill.  Instead of her husband taking over the running of the house, he stood passively by and sometime later, their mobile home was repossessed. 
They relied heavily on her parents to support them financially, and the husband was always buying equipment for his in-house studio, so he could make CD’s.  (This was the ‘80’s.)

They then had to rent a house one street over from mine; we had bought ours.  I always felt guilty about how financially set we were; I ignored that all of it came from my husband’s hard work, good financial planning and God’s blessing.  Their explanation for their misfortunes was always, “God is testing us.”  The husband would immediately spend any extra money they had, saying that it may never come around again.  The wife finally went to school, to gain a skill, to bring in extra income.  The husband complained that he could go to school, but she was taking all the money.  He did spend many hours designing album covers for his next project, however. 

She managed her at-home business quite well, and yet her husband had her doing everything:  kids, managing the house, shopping, cooking, etc.  He would sit there while she was making dinner with a screaming baby, and made no effort to help.  Guess who stepped in?  

I helped her take care of the house and yard, watched her kids, and became a surrogate husband.  He had time for all of his friends’ problems, but seemed blissfully uninterested in his own family, unless there was a crisis. There were several, and he would go to counseling with her to do crisis management, and she would calm down, and all would go back to normal—me in the husband role of helping and emotionally supporting her, and he focused on himself.  But still they would say, “God is testing us.”

I felt trapped.  I wanted out but felt a loyalty to her.  One day, when I called her and asked her to send my daughter home for dinner, she flat out refused.  I was stunned.  My daughter needed to come home and she would not send her home.  To this day I do not know what happened, only that I had to go over to their house and with my daughter screaming at me, my friend standing at the door and her husband disappearing down the hall, I had to finally threaten her with calling the police.  She relented. 

The friendship was over.  What happened?  I do not know. Within six months of our friendship ending, they were divorced.  Why am I telling you this?  At every turn, this couple exhibited pride and a total lack of personal responsibility for anything that went on.  He had been molested by a scout leader at the age of 7, and was unwilling to ever go to a counselor about this.  He hated homosexuals and defined his suitability as a father because he didn’t sleep around, as had his own mother.  His brokenness led to my friend leaning on and manipulating me for survival, pure and simple.  The red flags were numerous; I refused to see them because I felt so sorry for her.

But that night, with her stony gaze and her refusal to send my daughter home brought into clear view her somewhat hardened heart.  She had met someone online a few days earlier and I did not support it at all.  Was she taking revenge on me?  Was he?  Were they finally united over something—let’s stick it to Rhonda?  Don’t know, and I don’t think I ever will.  I only know I was so co-dependent it was beyond description.  Trapped, resentful, making up excuses, spending so much time rescuing her that I neglected my own family and then being betrayed in such a painful way shocked me but sadly didn’t cure me of co-dependence.  That was years up the road.

Brokenness can lead to sin.  Sin leads to deception and being deceived about what you believe and do can lead you into more sin. My stepping out of lessening the consequences for them meant she felt the full brunt of his neglect and emotional abuse.  The marriage was over because no one was there to take care of her or him.  I was deeply saddened when I heard the news.  I was even more deeply saddened when I heard she has recently passed; my hope is we will laugh and drink tea in heaven.
God wanted to teach them, raise them onto higher ground and show them both the true freedom that is in Christ.  But with me always involved, I blunted God’s process.  They were responsible for what happened, but I am sorry that I never spoke truth into their lives. 

God is always seeking to grow us, to make us mature and show us how His ways are best.  Our co-dependence and their dependence makes both sides growing in Christ a problem:

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:9-13)

What is God’s goal for His children? 

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-7)

If we constantly rescue people and they continue to dwell in the realm of the flesh, then God’s purposes for their lives may be thwarted.  Just like the people under Moses long ago in that desert, God wants us to move closer to Him and allow Him to remake our character.  He wants us “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8) Our co-dependent ways do not enable Him to do that, either in us or in others.  One final point we must take from the people in the desert.  If God is not in what people are doing or in what we are doing, the consequences of that will be grim as well.  Let’s revisit them one more time:

So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it—these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived. 
When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!”

But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”

Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah. (Numbers 14:36-45)

The men who started this whole terrible business by lying about what they saw in the Promised Land are taken out quickly.  No forty years of wandering for them; their lies were poisonous to the people and their presence among the people might continue to be a source of contention.  The people were saddened by what happened; but instead of seeking God for what they need to do, they assume they are ready to enter the Land.  They were told by Moses that only their children will go in; they were not allowed to go in.  They acknowledge their sin but do not repent; they decide that they are “ready.”  By whose standard?  Surely not God’s.

We, as CoDeWo’s, are way too willing to assume that everything we are told by those seeking our rescuing hand are being truthful.  That every thing that has happened to them is because of someone else; they are the victims time and time again.  We hear only their side of things, and never question the truth of it, for that would involve conflict.  We just go along and act only on what they have said. 
We then step out without consulting God, for we assume we are doing His work by helping these poor souls. They seem to be ready to accept our help, advice and directions.  Ready, but by whose standard?

They may even admit they have done wrong, but they have not truly repented—they have not confessed their sin and changed directions, moving towards God and not away from Him.   They want to take on the Promised Land—change in their lives—on their own terms, with them in the lead.  But just like their counterparts in the desert, they will be defeated by their “enemies”—pride, deception, unhealed brokenness, anger, unforgiveness and blame.  They move into this phase of their lives without the Lord yet expect Him to rubber-stamp what they are doing.  When it doesn’t work out, they blame the Lord, or you, for failing. 

“In their presumption” is a powerful statement.  As CoDeWo’s, are we willing to be like Moses and point out how their plan will not work, or do we stay silent, and hope that somehow, some way, all will work out? 

But if God is relegated to being a spectator, or not even invited, then it won’t work out, no matter how hard you try to help them. Their "enemies" will disrupt and destroy any attempts you and they make towards wellness.  Because it's all being done not in the Spirit (despite our good intentions) but in the flesh--yours and theirs. 

If this time in the desert teaches us only one thing, let it be that God must be in everything we do, no matter what.  How do we do this?  That's next!

Love you guys!  Thanks for reading and being patient with my blogs that seem to arrive at weird intervals! 

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