Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#86. Numbers xvi. & xvii. The Lord knoweth . . . . . depart from iniquity (II Tim. ii. 19).

     It will be remembered that the section of Numbers that has just been before us, viz.,  xi.-xiv.,  revealed many points of analogy both with Philippians and Hebrews.  There is one other epistle that comes into line with Philippians, namely,  II Timothy,  and we shall find that the next section of Numbers which we are to study  (xvi.  and  xvii.)  is used in  II Timothy  in a significant context.

     Numbers xvi. & xvii.  is in the first place an attack upon the distinctive office of the priest, in the second place it provides a corrective against an argument often used in opposing the distinctive character of the church, the body, and of the distinctive company in that church who shall attain unto the prize of the high calling.  This is anticipating somewhat, so we will deal with the actual passage.

     Numbers xvi. & xvii.  must be looked upon as a whole.  There are two rebellions, one by the princes led by Korah, and the other by the people, both having reference to the distinctive calling of the priest.  The two chapters may be visualized as follows:--

     What was the basis of Korah’s rebellion?  Let him speak for himself:--

     “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?” (Numb. xvi. 3).

     At the close of  chapter xv.  is the command of the Lord that all the children of Israel should wear a fringe and a riband of blue, a reminder to them to keep all the commandments of the Lord, to seek not the desires of their own hearts, and to be holy unto the Lord.

     Korah’s argument was that, seeing that all the congregation was holy, there should be no such distinctions among them as was evident in the high positions held by Moses and Aaron;  that Moses and Aaron had lifted themselves up above their fellows — all of whom were part of the same congregation of the Lord.

     Moses’ first response is to prostrate himself before the Lord.  He saw the seriousness of this rebellion, and wisely sought the face of God before attempting to justify himself before man.  His opening words dispose of the insinuation of Korah, that Moses and Aaron had lifted themselves up above the congregation.  If there had been any “lifting up” it was by the sovereign disposal of the Lord Himself:--

     “Even to-morrow the Lord will shew who are His, and who is holy (set apart):  and will cause him to come near unto Him:  even him whom He hath chosen will he cause to come near unto Him.  This do:  Take your censers, Korah, and all his company;  and put fire therein;  and put incense in them before the Lord tomorrow:  and it shall be that the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy;  ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi” (Numb. xvi. 5-7).

     Moses now draws the attention of Korah to the illogical nature of his objection.  Korah himself was a Levite, and God had separated the Levites from the congregation of Israel.  They had been brought near to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord:--

     “He hath brought thee (Korah) near to Him;  and all thy brethren, the sons of Levi, with thee:  and seek ye the priesthood also?” (Numb.xvi.10).

     All Israel might have justly murmured against Korah, as Korah murmured against Aaron.

     Moses sought to remonstrate with the sons of Reuben, but they would not hear, but cast the aspersion upon Moses, that he wished to make himself altogether a prince over them.  Then comes the dreadful ordeal.  “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men” (Numb. xvi. 26).  We know the tragic end.  Korah and his men went down alive into the opened earth and were swallowed up, and the 250 men who had offered incense were consumed with fire.

     Here is a “new thing” or as the Hebrew reads:  “but if the Lord create a creation”.  The first earthquake is associated with usurpation of the priest’s office.  Uzziah also is connected both with an earthquake and with usurpation of the priest’s office, and Antichrist will be likewise associated with both.

     While we may be keenly interested in the typical teaching of this passage as it illuminates the days of antichristian rebellion that are still future, it will be more profitable to observe the bearing of this tragic end upon ourselves.  One might object, and say that such things can have no possible bearing upon the church.  Let us see.  Two utterances of Moses stand out prominently in  chapter xvi.:--

     “The Lord will show who are His” (verse 5).
     “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men” (26).

     These words re-appear in  II Timothy ii.:--

     “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His, and, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. ii. 19).

     In what way does  II Timothy ii.  resembles  Numbers xvi.?   Let us remember Korah’s objection to the possibility of some being called to glory higher than others, though all members of the same congregation, and then let us see the way in which the apostle deals with that same spirit:--

     “But in a great house (parallel with the whole congregation) there are not only vessels of gold and of silver (like the offices of Moses, Aaron, and the Levites), but also of wood and of earth;  and some to honour, and some to no honour.  If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (II Tim. ii. 20, 21).

     Some object to the distinctive glory of the church of the mystery by appealing to the fact that all the Lord’s people, of whatever calling and company, are redeemed by the same precious blood, and belong to the same Christ.  This is no valid objection.  The Lord could choose and has chosen some of the redeemed to “inherit the earth”, some to walk the streets of the New Jerusalem, and some to enter their inheritance in the heavenly holiest of all.  The same answer that Moses gave to Korah must be given here.  It is a matter of the Lord’s sovereign choice.  Limiting ourselves to the one company, the church which is His body, some express themselves in almost angry terms when any suggestion is made to the teaching of Philippians, with its out-resurrection and prize, or to  II Timothy  with its contest and crown, endurance and reign.  These possible distinctions in the one church in the heavenlies are no more objectionable than the evident distinction between the comely and uncomely members of the one human body, or the distinctions that obtained in Israel.  To any who would seek further argument, we would commend the chapter in Dispensational Truth entitled:  “An election within an election”.

     Returning to  Numbers xvi. & xvii.  we observe that the censers of the men who rebelled were beaten out into sheets for a covering of the altar, and to act as a memorial of their rebellion, while the rod that budded was placed in the holiest of all before the testimony, as a token against the rebels:--

     “And thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from Me, that they die not” (Numb. xvii. 10).

     We are brought back therefore to the initial seed of this awful crop of death — murmuring.  Murmuring about God’s sovereign disposal of glory, dignity or honour reveals a failure to appreciate that the smallest and lowliest blessing we receive is all of grace.  Korah should have remembered the signal mercy that had led him out of Egypt, and have been thankful that his bones were not bleaching with those of the Egyptians on the shore of the Red Sea.  No wonder Philippians, the epistle of the prize winner, is the epistle of rejoicing, the epistle of contentment, the epistle that warns against murmuring.  Some, we fear, may resent this message:  may it be a means of help to those who having heard the higher call are seeking grace to run with patience.

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