Here’s the story…. The nation of Israel is in the desert after leaving Egypt and before entering the Promised Land. They are a large and powerful group wandering around lands east of the Jordan River. The existing nations there are terrified of Israel and desperately want to drive them away. So, King Balak of Moab decides to try to “run them off the land” by use of sorcery and curses. He hires Balaam, the so-called “prophet,” to come to Moab in order to speak curses over the Israelites. But, it all backfires. Instead of calling down curses on Israel, Balaam listens to God and pronounces blessings on them! King Balak figures this is some kind of mistake, so he takes Balaam to another place where he can overlook the Israelites…and try this all again. What was the king thinking? Wouldn’t common logic say, “If blessings came from God the first time, He’s certainly not going to change His mind.” Exactly! However, the king did not know the true character of God Almighty. He just worshiped puny man-made gods who were easily manipulated and coerced. But, the true and living God remains the same. Here is what Balaam said in his second oracle: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it” (Numbers 23:19-20). Here’s our takeaway from this event: We serve a God who is faithful and consistent and who does not lie. There are many promises in the Word to His children in Christ. Although we may not see them all or experience them all at one time, we can know and believe that God’s promises are “yes, and amen” in Jesus our Lord (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). Even though we are often disappointed by the broken promises of people, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. The One who died for us and shed His blood so that we may be cleansed is the One who promised to be with us in this world…and to share a home with us forever. You can trust His promises because He doesn’t change!
It’s a habit, and I think it’s a good one. I read the Bible through each year from Genesis to Revelation. However, I must admit, there are some books I read more quickly than others. One of those “faster-paced reads” is the Book of Leviticus. While reading, in the back of my mind, I sometimes ask, “How does this relate to me…and to God’s people today?” First, we must remember that all of God’s Word is inspired by Him and is profitable for all believers. In Leviticus (part of “The Law”), God gave instructions to the spiritual leaders (priests) of Israel—primarily regarding worship at the temple and sacrifices. God graciously gave the Israelites the Law after He delivered them from Egypt. They needed to know how to live and what to do in order to live in relationship with Him. As believers in Jesus Christ, we understand the Law of God was fulfilled in Jesus. So, we don’t read Leviticus with the intention of participation in the sacrifices and rituals. However, the believer today gains much by reading and studying the Law. The Apostle Paul said the purpose of the Law is “to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). Because of what Jesus accomplished for us by His death and resurrection, we don’t need to follow the details of the Law. However, we can gain insight into the heart of God if we are perceptive. While reading Leviticus this past week, I read these words: “I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations…. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Leviticus 20:24b, 26). These words from God are divine principles not just for Israel back then but also for those who follow Jesus now. Just as Israel, as a nation, was called to be different from the nations of the world, so we have been called from a life of sin to belong to Christ. Peter tell us, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We have been called from to be called to! The Lord calls us out of the world (the way of life that does not acknowledge Him), in order to be His treasure and inheritance. All of God’s Word speaks to us…even the Book of Leviticus!
Do you think your life is stressful? Think about Moses trying to lead about 2 to 3 million former slaves through the desert! When the people faced difficulties—such as lack of water or food—they whined and complained and spoke of going back into slavery! On top of that, they traveled together as a large group with only tents separating themselves from all their neighbors (imagine refugee camps as seen on TV). How could Moses cope with all this pressure? We read about his “secret” from Exodus 33:7: “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’.” To keep his sanity, Moses needed to get away from the crowds and seek the presence of God. This was his time of refreshing, giving him power and hope to face the day. The practice of prayer not only blessed Moses, but also inspired those he led. “And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent…. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent” (Exodus 33:8-10). Prayer not only filled Moses with God’s presence and peace, but also had a powerful effect on God’s people. So, my question to you is, “Where is your ‘tent of meeting’?” When and where do you spend daily time in God’s presence, gaining strength to face the day with hope and victory? But, you say, “I just don’t have the time.” Be creative. You can certainly carve out some alone time with God during the 24 hours He gives you today. Don’t be overcome by the stress of life and simply accept defeat and despair as normal. God’s presence is greater than any challenges you and I will ever face. Go to your “tent” and meet with God! You will be glad you did…and so will those around you.
So, God provides an amazing deliverance for the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. The Promised Land is not far away…it’s less than two weeks of walking to get to Israel from Egypt. But God leads them another “roundabout” way. Why not just go directly by the shortest route? We are told the reason in Exodus 13:17-18: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea….” The Lord knew the hearts of the people…and the road ahead. He graciously steered them away from hard conflict because they were not ready. Their faith was weaker than their fear! I wonder how many times we could have experienced swift and powerful victory, but we were too immature and too fearful to walk it out. Fear is a big deal which often “freezes” our faith and makes us go the long way or, even worse, makes us stay right where we are indefinitely. Looking at the Israelites and their journey, we discover characteristics of fear…and how to overcome it. First, we must understand that fear is a mindset which “imagines the worst.” The Israelites, when facing hardships, spoke fear to themselves, saying things such as, “God has abandoned us! We’re all going to die! It would have been better to stay in slavery!” And, just then, we can allow ourselves to dwell on the “worst that could happen.” This mindset leads to a bitter spirit of complaining about our hardships and blaming God. The second crippling effect of fear is how we “shrink” God and make Him less powerful than our problems. Fear says, “God can’t help you…this problem is too big.” So, we magnify our problems and minimize our God. The answer to fear is faith in God! Trusting God, we take steps forward, knowing that He goes before us and has our best in mind. Though we must face spiritual battles on our way to the Promised Land, it beats the “long way” by 40 years!