Numbers 15-17: Sacrifice and Authority
March 7, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The section begins innocuously enough with laws about sacrifices (15:1-21)—perhaps indicating an intended return to normal after the people’s rebellion previously, or a pointer to the means of atoning for such sins. The most remarkable part of chapter 15 is the insistence that the same rules of sacrifice pertain to the sojourner, the one temporarily living among them, as for the Israelites themselves (15:15-16). God is no minor tribal deity, but the God of the whole earth, and his way is the way for all.
As if to underline the importance of finding such atonement, the chapter includes the putting to death of a Sabbath breaker (15:32-26). Once again, it is important to remember that we are dealing with a theocracy. The New Testament church has as its motto “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:21) or Paul’s teaching, which reflects that of his Master, that we are “to submit to authorities” (Rom. 13:1), even of a secular Roman kind. But that the New Testament church does not “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4) is not to be taken to indicate that God is a God who does not take rebellion against him seriously. One only need read the many warnings against hell that appear on the lips of Jesus, or the frankly scaring description of judgment in the Book of Revelation, to be fully cognizant that judgment will come for those who do not hide themselves in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world.
To remind God’s Old Testament people of the importance of obeying the law, therefore, they are told to wear “tassels” on the corners of their garments (15:37-41). Such distinctiveness can be taken too far and utilized in a prideful spirit, as it seemed to be predominantly so in Jesus’ time (“they make their phylacteries wide and their prayer shawls long,” Matt. 23:5). But in its original intention it was a reminder—like setting an alarm clock each morning to have your quiet time, not like putting on Facebook exactly how early you get up to boast before other people!
Now we come to Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16), a rebellion that typifies a wrongful, evil attitude to God and his Word as indicated by Jude 11. Essentially, Korah and his cohorts were accusing Moses and Aaron of claiming authority over the rest of God’s people illegitimately (16:3, 12-14). It was not their authority to take, they were saying, and Moses and Aaron had got above themselves and were lording it over them. They were the popular representatives of the people and were going to turn the authoritarian dictators out of their self-imposed power! Actually, of course, Moses had been put there by God, as had Aaron, and God in dramatic fashion re-established their authority as derived solely from God’s authority.
God is about to destroy the whole people, and Moses in a real act of intercession, and yet one that prefigures and is only fulfilled in Christ’s intercession, pleads that God not wipe out his people entirely (16:20-24). Frightening judgment ensues, the ground swallows them up, fire comes out (16:25-35). The censers are then reworked to act as a memorial to God’s people to remind them that God has called Moses and Aaron (16:36-40).
To finish tidying up this act of rebellion, God then sets a test to put staffs from all the chiefs to deposit in the tent of meeting. The next day only Aaron’s staff has budded, and therefore God miraculously establishes Aaron’s authority (17:1-11). All this leaves God’s people thunderstruck: “We are undone!” (17:12). They realize that God is truly holy, and they also realize that they truly are not. Who can redeem us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25). We should neither diminish God’s holiness, nor magnify our goodness, but rather find peace, truth and security in the revelation of the Son of God who at the cross shows that our wickedness is far greater than we dare admit, and at the same time God’s love for us is far, far greater than we dare hope. You are loved, sinner, and need not pretend that you are not a sinner, for you are secure, through faith in Christ, in the love of God eternal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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