Numbers 31-32: Promise and Judgment
March 13, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
These are not easy words to read. “Vengeance” is commanded (31:1-3), and does indeed ensue, upon the Midianites (31:4-12). In fact, when it is discovered that the victory over the people of Midian has been insufficiently thorough or harsh, Moses commands that every male child and every adult woman also be killed (31:13-18). How can we read this and not find our stomach churn?
Reason is given: Balaam had deceived Israel by advising the Midianities to seduce the Israelites “in the incident of Peor” (31:16). Suffice it to say that such divine wrath against sinners pales into insignificance beside the place where “the worm does not die and the fire does not go out” (Mark 9:48) as Jesus called hell. You only have to read Revelation to realize that God is a God of judgment, and to cry out to God for mercy that his judgment would be delayed on this world, and to hide yourself in the atoning work of Christ at the cross. We are no longer divine agents of wrath in the sense that Israel was as a theocracy: the New Testament church does not bear the sword. But God’s judgment is still a reality, and the sacrifice of Jesus is the only hope for sinners.
Chapter 32 is a less somber affair, though it appears momentarily as if disaster is about to strike Israel again. But Reuben and Gad are not faithlessly backing out of their trust in God to enter the Promised Land, as their forebears had done and perished in the wilderness, but were ready to enter the Promised Land and fight for their brothers before returning to their own inheritance. We breathe a sigh of relief as it looks as if for a moment the tribes have learnt an important lesson: if God says go, we are to go; if he says stop, we are to stop; God’s promise is sufficient, his Word is sure, and is a light to our feet and a lamp to our path (Ps. 119:105). You can trust God and take him at his Word. Trust not in feeble sense, but depend upon the sure promise of God.
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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