Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#85. Numbers xi. - xiv. “These things are examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things” (I Cor. x. 6).

     It is one thing to perceive glimpses of truth — and for the smallest ray of light how can we be too thankful — it is quite another matter to so perceive the trend of a passage as to receive illumination, both upon detail and upon the general scope.  While we most gratefully seize upon the veriest crumbs of doctrine or practical teaching which we may receive from such a book as the book of Numbers, readers of The Berean Expositor will feel, somehow, that unless we can get larger views than just a survey of a few verses, we shall probably miss many essential points.

     As we turn the pages of  Numbers xi., xii. & xiii.  onward, the task seems too great to be able to discern order and design in such a wealth of detail and such a mass of description.  Yet the words of  Numb. xi. 23:  “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?”  is a challenge to faith, and consequently, before we proceed with our study of  Numbers xii.  we seek for light upon the scope of this section.  And first where does the section that commences at  chapter xi.  end?   We read on until we arrive at the close of  Numbers xiv.  to find that  chapter xv.  opens with laws that were to be enforced when the people entered the land.  This evidently marks a dividing line for us.  It would be good discipline for us all if we had time and space to take the reader step by step through the intervening chapters so that the discovery of the underlying unity should be received as a gift from the Lord, and not, as we fear it will appear, as a matter of course.  The structure or the scope of a passage is of the first importance.

     Quoting from the opening chapter of the book:  “The Foundations of Dispensational Truth” by the late E. W. Bullinger, D.D., we read:--

     "There is one great foundation principle in the science of LOGIC which will meet all the difficulties, if we are careful to observe it.  It is this:  We cannot reason from the particular to the general.  The difficulties experienced by some of our readers are due to the fact that they arise from a consideration of only parts of the truth.  To find the answer to them, it is vain to continue the discussion of them as separate difficult points:  we mean difficulties connected with the earlier Pauline Epistles written before  Acts xxviii.,  such as ordinances, the one body of  I.Corinthian.xii.  or the spiritual gifts of  I Corinthian xiii., xiv., etc."

     These words may help our readers to appreciate any light that can be cast upon the scope of a passage, so that we may reason from the general to the particular, which is of course the only true way.

     A strictly literary structure is too vast an undertaking, but the following synopsis will make it clear that a purpose runs through the record of Israel’s murmurings, and to see that will suffice:--

     Quite a number of items that bear upon the teaching associated with Philippians and our own calling call for attention.  Let us briefly pass them in review.

     The ark goes before to search out a place of rest.  Can we not find help here?  Speaking to those who were His disciples, the Lord said:  “I go to prepare a place for you” (John xiv. 2), and this blessed promise is precede by a statement of principle:  “If it were not so I would have told you”.  This is still true for the Church of the One Body.  To learn of the hope, we need to know where Christ is now, and if details and explanations are not always given, surely the promise still holds good:  “I would have told you”.  We shall see presently that the sending of the spies was a contradiction of trust in this fact.

     The mixed multitude, and the ten spies, are a type of the effect upon the believer of failure to abide by such scriptures as:--

“Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances” (Col. ii. 20).
     “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of his livelihood” (II.Timothy.ii.4).

     Ephesians says to us “Remember”;  Philippians says to us “Forget”.  We are to remember that we were hopeless aliens, but Israel remembered the onions and garlick instead.  We are to forget the things that are behind, and to set our mind on things above.

     Even the two passages that speak of the resistance of Moses are important to us.  Moses was not moved by jealousy when he heard that Eldad and Medad, who had remained in the camp, had prophesied.  And when God said in His wrath:  “I will smite them with pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they” (Numb. xiv. 12), Moses did not entertain the thought for a moment, but pleaded with the Lord to pardon the people and remember His Own glorious Name.  Here is a concrete example of the spirit inculcated in  Phil. ii. 3, 4:--

     “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory;  but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”

     Miriam’s leprosy and her being shut out of the camp for seven days, and the jealous spirit manifested, typify Israel in her lo-ammi (not my people) condition between the first coming of Christ when the kingdom was preached, and the second coming of Christ when it shall be established.  The meekness of Moses is here mentioned, anticipating that other period of rejection, when the Lord should say:  “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. xi. 29).

     Let us now concentrate our attention on those sections that are most prominent.  It will be seen that the two features of greater importance are members   B   and   B.     The first looks back with longing eyes to Egypt and its flesh-pots;  the second looks with bias upon the land of promise and exaggerates its difficulties.  The ten spies are said to have brought up a “slander upon the land” (Numb. xiv. 36), and above all comes the revelation of God’s breach of promise.

     How often has the sad history of  chapters xi. & xii.  been repeated after Egypt, and turn against a true man of God among them, putting up some trumpery charge against him, largely to cover their own baseness, as was the objection against the Ethiopian wife of Moses.  Whenever we have to meet the parallel of  Numbers xii.,  let us immediately look for the parallel of  Numbers xi.,  and see it manifested by the failure of  Numbers xiv.

     Our study for this paper must now concentrate upon the story of the spies and the result of their report:--

     “And the Lord speak unto Moses, saying, Send thou men that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel” (Numb. xiii. 1, 2).

     Has it ever struck the reader that there is a note of pain, a sense of distrust in the words:  “that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give”?  Why search?  Why send men to see “what the land is, whether it be fat or lean” (Numb. xiii. 20), if God had described it and given it Himself?  Does it not sound like unbelief?  It not only sounds like distrust, but it was.  The command to take the twelve men and send them as spies did not originate with God:  it was an answer to their own request, and once again, it brought leanness into their soul.  When Moses rehearsed the affair in the ears of Israel he reminded them of their unbelief:--

     “Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee:  go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee;  fear not, neither be discouraged.  And ye came near unto Me every one of you and said:  We will send men before us, and they shall search out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come . . . . . Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God, Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in;  in fire by night, to shew you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day” (Deut. i. 21-23).

     A reference to  Ezek. xx. 5, 6  shows that at the time when the Lord delivered Israel out of the land of Egypt, He had already “espied for them” a glorious land.  Israel’s request for the spies therefore was sheer unbelief, it was a despising of the Lord, a slighting of His loving care and provision.  It has its analogy to-day.

     Quite a number of those who believe the teaching of the epistles of the mystery have expressed themselves as unsatisfied by the scantiness of the revelation there contained as to (1) just what constitutes the glory of our inheritance, and (2) just exactly by what way the Church shall enter into its hope.  There is a looking back to the hope of an earlier dispensation, a sort of envy at the lavish description of the millennial kingdom, or the wonders of the heavenly city, and one senses something petulant in the request, “Where is our hope described in the epistles of the Mystery?  Why are there no details given to us as to others?”  There is also a querulous complain that whereas  I Thessalonian iv.  or  I Corinthian xv.  are most explicit, one cannot be sure from the prison epistles whether the Church of the One Body will be caught up by rapture, will die off and pass through death and resurrection, whether all will go together, whether there will be angelic accompaniments, etc., etc.  All this, which superficially sounds like earnest enquiry, is but the old unbelief of Israel re-expressed.  They wanted to know more than God had revealed about “the land” which was their inheritance, and they wanted to know more than God had revealed as to “what way we must go up”.  Both these questions were already answered by faith.  God had espied the land and had called it good.  God went before them with fire and with cloud “to shew them by what way they should go”.  Faith needs nothing more.

     If our inheritance at the right hand of God, “far above all”, is so transcendentally above all human thought and experience, what words of human language could describe the riches of the glory of that inheritance of the saints?  If in the resurrection and translation we need such adjusting to the new sphere of blessing “in the heavenly places”, how should we be the better if God described the process.  It is enough for us that as we receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of “Him”, the ascended Lord, and of “it”, the mystery, we shall receive as full an answer to our quest for knowledge as God sees fit to give.  If we are assured that:  “when Christ Who is our life shall be manifested, we also shall be manifested with Him in glory”, what does it matter that “the way we must go up” is left unexplained?  We shall arrive — praise God.  We do not know how — well, that is His responsibility, not ours.

     Our refusal to be turned back to  I Thessalonian iv.  as the hope of the Church is to be understood in the light of  Numbers xiii. & xiv.   We seek the spirit that enabled Caleb and Joshua to believe God, and leave the consequences.  As we pointed out when dealing with  Col. i. 23  (see volume XXI),  the great evidence of progress in the truth, or of the beginning of decline, are closely associated with holding steadfast to “the hope”.  Caleb and Joshua were threatened with stoning for the stand they took.  We shall probably get its equivalent again and again;  but as in their case, so in ours, His truth shall be our shield and buckler.

     One of the reasons why the Lord was not too explicit about the land of Canaan, and the way up, was because it was inhabited by a monstrous seed of the wicked one, the giants, the sons of Anak, and viewing such antagonists with the eyes of the flesh, the spies said:  “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight”.  The cities were walled and very great — and grace was not given in the wilderness to deal with these remote difficulties.  When at last Israel did stand before the walls of Jericho, they fell down flat at the shout of faith.

     The pathway to our inheritance is blocked by principalities and powers, spiritual wickedness and world holders of darkness.  If we should see them with the eyes of the flesh, we should crumple up as did Daniel.  God mercifully spares us this vision.  We believe His Word;  that is enough.  If we knew the formidable strongholds of Satan that must be overcome in “the evil day”, we should recoil in fear and unbelief.  We shall not face them until we are all assembled beneath the banner of our true Captain, the greater Joshua, with Jordan behind us, and the land of promise immediately before us.  Why not take a leaf out of this book of experience;  why not believe what God has revealed, and lovingly accept as best what He withholds?

     Two Psalms should be read in connection with this passage of Israel’s history.   Psalm xc.  speaks of those who, being over twenty years of age, died in the wilderness:  they were taught to number their days.   Psalm xci.  speaks of their children, who grew up at their sides, and who saw the pestilence and the arrow doing their work, yet knew that they should not come nigh them.

     While a sinner may be saved at the eleventh hour, it would appear from many passages of Scripture that a believer who is saved, and who puts his hand to the plough, who looks back like Lot’s wife, who does not press toward the mark, who like Demas loves this present evil age, or like the Hebrews of  Hebrews vi.  or Esau of  Hebrews xii.  exchange their birthright for a little ease here, are running a serious risk of suffering loss in that day, of losing their crown or their reward.  Caleb and Joshua, on the other hand, are examples of those who press on unto perfection, who attain “the better resurrection” of  Hebrews xi.,  or the “out-resurrection” and “prize” of  Philippians iii.

     May we draw attention to one more feature.  “The better resurrection” of  Hebrews xi.  is a close parallel with the “out-resurrection” of  Philippians iii.   Now we are not left to surmise as to when the better resurrection was entered, for  Hebrews xi.  declares that those who looked for the better country all died in faith, not having received the promise, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. xi. 40).

     Caleb and Joshua were not permitted by the Lord to go on to the inheritance at once.  No, they had to wait the forty years just like the rest.  The overcomers of  Hebrews xi.  did not enter the heavenly city immediately after death, no, they had to wait until the whole of their company were raised together, the “better resurrection” referring not to the time when it is entered, but to the prize appertaining thereto which would be presented when the time had come.

     So with  Philippians iii.   The out-resurrection need not take place before the resurrection and translation of the whole Church, but it will qualify for “the prize of the high calling”, which is parallel with Caleb’s additional inheritance when God’s time comes.

     It is not without significance that Paul’s other reference to a “prize” should be most intimately associated with Israel’s failure in the wilderness  (I Cor. ix. 24,  x.13),  nor should we slight the precious lesson of the closing sentence:  “But will with the temptation make the end (or goal), so that ye may be able to bear it.”
     The trials of the pilgrim path are for our future glory.  He knows;  therefore, follow on.

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