In doing our daily readings, it is often useful to reflect over where we have come over the past days. At the time of preparing this exhortation, the first reading for the day, April 6, was Numbers 22 and 23. Over the prior week, from Numbers 14 to 23, 38 years passed for the children of Israel as they journeyed to the Promised Land. The week started, as it ended, with the Israelites on the borders of the Promised Land, about to face different temptations.

Numbers 14 takes place not two years after the triumphant exit from Egypt. The chapter records the tragic consequences that befell the nation through their total lack of faith in the ability of God to guide them to the promise of salvation in the Kingdom. When considering the number and frequency of the witness of the power of God, we perhaps question the response to the report of the ten spies. They witnessed God’s power in the plagues, in their deliverance from Egypt and baptism at the Red Sea, in the provision of manna, of quails, of water, in the provision of laws and ordinances, in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, and so the list goes on.

All these thoughts are forgotten as the report of the spies is heard in Numbers 13:27–29. Whilst acknowledging the fruitfulness of the land in verses 27 to 29, the initial excitement is dampened with a ‘nevertheless’: “Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there (v 28). Other nations, the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and the Canaanites are also mentioned. These words, accompanied no doubt by a dismayed demeanour, led to the retort from Caleb: “Let us go up AT ONCE, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (Num 13:30).

Here was a man of faith who immediately, without delay, was eager to possess his inheritance. Caleb did not deny that there were challenges, but he knew they could be overcome with the help of God. Caleb was not discouraged by enemies that were strong. He did not concern himself with cities that were walled. Caleb was not frightened by the children of Anak, nor the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Jebusites, nor yet the Amorites. Through the power of God, he and the faithful of Israel could overcome and do so AT ONCE!

When we contemplate God’s coming Kingdom, do we want the Kingdom to arrive at once? Right now? Or are there still things we want to accomplish in this life before the return of our Master? Do we say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus, and please, come quickly”? Or perhaps rather say, “I know the Kingdom is coming, but please let me finish these projects I am working on – the better job, the bigger barn. Please, Lord, be patient!” Let not the cares of this life overtake us so that the return of our Lord takes us unawares, but let us rather, in the spirit of Caleb, enthusiastically welcome the Kingdom, and be ready AT ONCE, for the return of our Master.

Faced with the wonderful retort of Caleb, the response from the ten spies turns from dismay to an “evil report” in verse 32. The land, promised by God as their rest, a good land flowing with milk and honey, became a land that “eateth up the inhabitants thereof”. The inhabitants, whom God would deal with, became men of great stature. Even more than that – “the giants, the giants, the sons of Anak!” And more, “the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants”! As fear builds on fear, the final straw follows – “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Num 13:33). Consider the extent of the exaggeration. Applying an order of scale, the giants would be over 140 feet high. An initial fear became an irrational terror.

Such was the despair generated by the evil report that the entire congregation cried. Imagine the sound as the great wail of despair commenced at the centre of the encampment, and as word spread, the sound of distraught weeping became louder and louder until a crescendo of the cries of over 600,000 men, and the cries of their wives reverberated around the encampment.

The situation begs an obvious question – how could these people who lived with daily reminders of the presence and protection of their Heavenly Father, have been so faithless? The more exhortational question is, how would we have reacted? Better still, how do we react in our lives today? We, who have been witness to our own deliverances from the world of Egypt. We who have been witness to our salvation from Egypt through the waters of Baptism. We who receive daily provision from our Heavenly Father, in abundance. We, too, are on the border of the Promised Land. As we look towards the Kingdom, the land flowing with milk and honey, are we beset by giants in our lives? Do we begin to lose faith at the prospect of the path before us? Do we sometimes mull over a small concern and worry about it, and build on it, until it becomes an irrational, faith-destroying fear?

The promise of the Kingdom has been made to every believer. But how many are discouraged by the difficulties in the way. As we battle along in our own way, we see dangers and giants everywhere, and so our walk to the Kingdom falters. We can become discouraged by what seems to be the impossibility of overcoming sin. We become overwhelmed by the battle with sin – we cannot overcome the Anakims in our lives, and by comparison, we are grasshoppers in their sight. Our faith diminishes.

But, brethren and sisters, we are not alone. Joshua and Caleb knew this. We dare not lose sight of the merciful provision God has established for our deliverance along the path to His Kingdom. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must not trust in our strength, but rather in the power of God alone, armed with unshakable faith that blood of the sacrifice of Christ can cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So with Caleb and Joshua we can confidently say, “fear [not] the people of the land… for their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us…” (Num 14:9) Let us have faith that whatever the circumstances, whatever the giants in our lives, the sons of Anak will fall before us. In the name of the Lord of hosts we can do all things.

Unfortunately, faith deserted the children of Israel. Fear was replaced by anger and dissension. Rebellion soon followed with the leadership of Moses being challenged. During this dreadful scene, in which a faithful few challenged an angry mob, God intervened, wanting to destroy the nation. Only through the intercession of Moses is the nation preserved. Similarly, it is only through the intercession of our Lord that we have been saved. Let us make sure that we are not condemned, as were the children of Israel whose carcasses fell in the wilderness.

It is not remarkable when considering the background that God proclaims His purpose with the earth, and mankind upon it. Despite man’s folly, despite man’s disobedience, despite man’s lack of faith, Yahweh swears that all the earth will be filled with His glory.

A further challenge to the leadership of Moses and Aaron is mounted in Numbers 16 by Korah, Dathan and Abiram: “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (v3). The result is swift, decisive and terrifying. Despite the ‘new thing’, that stamped Divine approval on the leadership chosen by God, the people murmured, blaming Moses and Aaron for the demise of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and their conspirators! Again, the results are swift, decisive and terrifying. The people are forced to look to Aaron as an intercessor to stay the plague. The record notes that 14,700 brethren and sisters lose their lives over the ‘matter of Korah’ (v3). This account presents a powerful lesson to the Arranging Brethren and others who lead the meeting in service to God. Whilst we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, foolish actions can have farreaching and disastrous consequences.

Moses had prayed for a specific judgment to prove that he and Aaron were Divinely appointed and God responded. The congregation heard the prayer. From their reaction, it is apparent they did not expect the prayer to be answered. We pray, as individuals, and a community. God always listens to our pleas. God always hears our cries. God always answers our prayers. When we pray let us not second-guess God’s answer, whether we find the answer agreeable or not. God’s wisdom will decree that ALL things work together for good.

To remove any remaining shred of doubt, the witness of Aaron’s rod that budded is recorded in chapter 17, followed by the charge given to Aaron and his sons, and to them alone, concerning the office of the priests and Levites in chapter 18. In considering our calling as kings and priests, what is our attitude to our role and responsibilities? Do we respond out of a sense of duty? Do we feel that our fellowship in Christ restricts our lifestyle? Do we find attendance at meetings, the memorial, the lecture and Bible Class, impinges on our ability to follow earthly pursuits? Look at how God views the office of priesthood, “I have given your priest’s office unto you as a service of gift” (Num 18:7). The American Standard Version notes: “to you they are a gift, given to the Lord”. The service of the Levites was a gift to God. Compare our gift with the gift that God has given us in His Son whom we remember week by week.

Numbers 20 commences, “Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.”

If you read these verses quickly, you can almost miss the death of Miriam. One wonders how long the children of Israel allowed Moses to mourn. Although Miriam, too, had her moments with Moses, Micah records that Moses, Aaron and Miriam were sent by God to lead the people (6:4). She was a vessel chosen by God to perform a purpose in His ecclesia. You can imagine Moses’ frustration at the incessant complaining of the Israelites. ‘There they go again. Can’t they leave me in peace for a moment?’

Picture Moses as he is surrounded by a bleating flock of complainers. Imagine his frustration rising and rising until, in anger, he strikes the rock. Aaron was complicit in this act. Both are reprimanded, “Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (21:12). Both receive the same punishment – neither entered the land.

As the way becomes hard, the nation, in an all too familiar pattern, complains and challenges the leadership of Moses in chapter 21. Whilst the pattern may appear monotonous, these events are recorded for our learning and admonition. How often do we repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again? How often on a Sunday morning do we find we are praying for forgiveness of the same sins? The children of Israel again had to look to Moses as an intercessor, as he hastily makes a serpent of brass for the people to look on. We are reminded that even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the son of man had to be lifted up. We are truly humbled by the provision of Jesus as our intercessor who lives for evermore.

Finally, after 38 years of wandering in the wilderness, waiting for the previous generation to fall, Israel is once again on the borders of the land (Num 22, 23). Once again, their enemies are against them. This time Balak hires Balaam, the son of Beor. Whilst Strong’s notes that Balaam means “Not of the people”, and Beor “Burning”, Unger’s Concise Bible Dictionary notes the meaning of Balaam as “a destroyer of nations”. Truly, he was a destroyer of the nation of Israel. Notwithstanding this, Balaam’s initial interaction with the Israelites bears testimony to the proverb: “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov 16:7).

Despite his best endeavours, and despite a show of religion, Balaam cannot curse Israel. Rather, the blessings he pronounces are prophetic, and present to us, who are on the borders of the land, detail of the hope of our calling. Consider Numbers 23:8–11. “How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied?” (v8). Truly, if God is for us, who can be against us. Verse 9 notes, “For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” We are separate from the nations who will feel the curses of God. The innumerable nature of the host is referred to in verse 10. “Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?” We have been promised a place in this host so large that the fourth part of it cannot be numbered! The Kingdom of God is going to extend to every corner of the globe. There is an abundance of work to be performed by the multitudinous Bride of Christ. Let us have confidence that by the grace of God we will find a place. The prospect of the enormity of the nation of Israel causes Balaam to conclude, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” Balaam is moved to wish he could die as one counted righteous by God so that he can participate in the glory to be revealed.

Much to the annoyance of Balak, the blessings continue from verse 18 onwards. Verses 19 and 20 assure us that God will not change His word. He has decreed that Balaam must bless Israel, and Balaam was powerless to do anything else.

In light of our considerations, verse 21 seems incongruous. “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel…” We have seen the results of God’s judgements on individuals in the nation. The nation as a whole survived. If we live by God’s ways and principles, we will not be cursed. The verse continues in prophetic terms of the Kingship of our Lord, “the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.” The blessing goes on to recognise the work of God in bringing the Israelites (and us!) out of Egypt with a strong hand and a stretched out arm. Nothing can be brought against Israel, neither enchantment, nor divination. Rather, God will be praised when people recognise His handiwork in developing a nation for His praise. They will exclaim, “What hath God wrought!” (v23). As the Lion of God, the people will rise up and subdue those nations which oppose God (v24).

As we prepare ourselves for the return of the Lord Jesus, as we wait at the border of the Promised Land, as we train to be kings and priests, let us ensure that we strengthen ourselves by these examples. Let us rely on God for our strength, and not challenge the leadership of Christ, as the Israelites did Moses. Let us look to Jesus as the great intercessor so that we may bring honour and glory to God.