Numbers - God's will

Background

The book title is "Numbers" in our English Bibles based upon the Vulgate (Latin translation) title, Numeri. This title is based on the "numbering" of people (1:19; 1:45; 2:33; 3:42; 4:49; 26:4).

The story of Numbers is about how Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, how they sinned and were punished, and how they prepared to try again.

Theme

The phrase at the commandment of the Lord is repeated 17 times in this book, more than anywhere else in the Bible. It was even repeated three times in one verse!

Numbers 9:23 (NIV) At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

Our response : Numbers 32:31 "Your servants will do what the LORD has said.

How is this lesson different from the study on holiness?

The study on holiness is a study on the general will of God. God wants everyone to stay out of sin.

But when we study this topic on God's will, we are focusing our attention on the specific will of God. For example, is it God's will that I take up this job, migrate to another country, etc. These areas do not fit clearly into either sin or non-sin and are therefore not so clear cut. Also, God's will in these areas is often different for different people.

God wants to be in control of every area of our lives. Some people are just contented to let God control their Sundays. God is free to ask them to do whatever He likes on Sundays. "But don't touch the other days, Lord." Some people are willing to let God do what He likes with their money. They don't mind giving to missions. "But don't send me to missions Lord".

Discussion : Think of areas in our lives where we don't want God to touch.


1. God wants to guide us in our daily life.

Numbers 9:15-22 (NIV) On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18 At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord's order and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.

God was guiding His people in the wilderness. God is still interested in guiding us today.

Psa 23:1-2 1 A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want (ie lack for anything). 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

Proverbs 3:5­6 (NIV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

How does God lead us?

Through the Bible

Psalms 119:105 (NIV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Through the Holy Spirit

John 14:26 (NIV) But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

The Holy Spirit guides us by giving us ideas as to what to do or even giving us the peace when we have made the right decision.

Luke 2:27 (NIV) Moved by the Spirit, he (ie the priest Simeon) went into the temple courts.

Here the Bible says that the Holy Spirit moved the priest to the temple courts to meet the baby Jesus perhaps by giving him a compulsion to go.

Through friends

Proverbs 12:15 (NIV) The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

Through situations

The son of King Saul, Jonathan, wanted to teach the Philistines a lesson for showing disregard for God but he didn't know whether it is God's will. What should he do? He decided to take a step first and if God would lead him to certain circumstances, he would take it as confirmation that it is God's will to attack the Philistines.

1 Samuel 14:6­12 (NIV) Jonathan said to his young armour­bearer, "Come, let's go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows (ie the Philistines). Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. (You see, he wasn't sure at first.) .... Jonathan said, "Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, 'Wait there until we come to you,' we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, 'Come up to us,' we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands." 11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. "Look!" said the Philistines. "The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in." 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armour­bearer, "Come up to us and we'll teach you a lesson." So Jonathan said to his armour­bearer, "Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel."

We can learn from this incident by asking God for specific situations that we can use as clues as to what God wants us to do. For example, when we apply for a job, we can ask God for confirmation as to whether it is the right job for us by either making the job available or not. In other words, we can tell God that if He does not want us in a particular job to please make it not available to us.

1 Corinthians 16:8­9 (NIV) But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

Paul decided to stay in Ephesus because the Lord has shown him opportunities there.


2. If we do not heed God's will, we will miss out on all His blessings….

The people of Israel could have enjoyed the land overflowing with milk and honey, but they were too afraid to heed God's will. As a result, they missed out on all the blessings.

Only the two spies who wanted to experience God's will were allowed to enter the promised land. The rest simply walked in the wilderness for forty years in circles!

Num 14:30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

...may even get into trouble.

The people now changed their minds and decided that they want to enter the land. So they went to fight. But this is entirely out of line with God's timing. As a result, they lost the battle because God was not with them and many died.

Numbers 14:40-45 (NIV) Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. "We have sinned," they said. "We will go up to the place the LORD promised." 41 But Moses said, "Why are you disobeying the Lord's command? This will not succeed! 42 Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, 43 for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the LORD, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword." 44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord's covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.

Contrast this to a later time when the Israelites obeyed God's command to destroy the Midianites.

Numbers 31:1-7 (NIV) The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people." 3 So Moses said to the people, "Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the Lord's vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel." 5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. 6 Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling. 7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man.

Numbers 31:48-49 (NIV) Then the officers who were over the units of the army--the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds--went to Moses 49 and said to him, "Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. (In other words, there were zero casualties!)

3. God can use anyone/anything to accomplish His will.

God even used a pagan prophet Balaam to bless Israel.

(Num 22:1-6 NIV) Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho. {2} Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, {3} and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites. {4} The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, "This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field." So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, {5} sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River, in his native land. Balak said: "A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. {6} Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed."

Numbers 23:19-20 (NIV) 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? 20 I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

God could even use Balaam's donkey to speak to him.

Numbers 22:21-29 (NIV) Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road. 24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam's foot against it. So he beat her again. 26 Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. 28 Then the LORD opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?" 29 Balaam answered the donkey, "You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now."

Discussion : We may encounter difficult situations in life where it seems that there is no one near who can help us. God could even use the people who were formerly against us to work in our favor.

(Some people may argue that God used Balaam because he later repented and followed God. However, there were some evidences that he may not have truly repented. See Num 31:16, 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 11)

4. God's will may seem inappropriate but will turn out to be completely essential.

When the old generation had died, the new generation seemed ready to enter the Promised Land. Neighboring nations, however, cause Israel to begin to worship other gods. Moses had to act to get rid of these evil influences, one of them being the Midianites.

Numbers 31:9-18 (NIV) The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho. 13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army--the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds--who returned from the battle. 15 "Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. 16 "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord's people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

God may seem too harsh in asking the Israelites to kill all the boys and woman of their enemies. But this is essential to prevent the boys from attacking them in future and the woman from introducing false religions to them as seen in these verses.

Numbers 25:1-3 (NIV) While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them.

Discussion : Can you think of situations in your life when you felt God's dealing was inappropriate or too harsh but later understood the action by God to be necessary.