Joshua 3:1-17

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The story is told of a wealthy man’s funeral at which “Guide me O thou great Jehovah” was the opening hymn.  It may have been a typo but the final verse read as follows:

“When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside
Death of death and hell’s destruction
Land my safe on Canaan’s side.”

What is our hope beyond death?  That is the question for all who “tread the verge of Jordan”?

In the Bible, Jordan is the barrier we must cross as we pass from the wilderness and into the promised land.  It represents our transition from the testing of this life into the rest of the next. So, how can we be sure we will land safe on Canaan’s side?

In the book of Joshua, the one whose name is “Jesus” (Joshua) leads the people across the Jordan and into the land of milk and honey.  In Joshua 3 and 4, this transition is described as both a “passing over” and a “parting of the waters”.  This brings to mind the great salvation events of the Exodus.  The reader is being told: entering God’s rest is about salvation.  It’s about going death to life with Jesus at our head.

But as the Old Testament unfolds we see a bad people ruining a good land.  They had been called God’s son – His pride and joy (Exodus 4:22).  But far from living the life of God’s son, they “rebelled and vexed God’s Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10).  They earned His curses – just as Moses had predicted they would (Deuteronomy 4:25-28).  They would be uprooted from the land and cast out.  But beyond the exile would come the true salvation (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

Fifteen centuries later, there was another gathering of Israelites on the banks of the Jordan.  They had all come out to hear a wild and woolly preacher called John the Baptist.  He told them they needed to pass through the Jordan’s waters again.  They weren’t really the Lord’s people, they weren’t really at home with God – not spiritually.  Multitudes agreed, they confessed their sins and were baptised.  And then something extraordinary happened:

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.  (Matthew 3:13)

Jesus is baptized!  The LORD of Glory joins the sinners, is numbered among the transgressors, and He “passes over” into God’s rest at their head.

Where we have failed to live the life of God’s son – the Son of God lives it for us. He is our spiritual Joshua, bringing us in to the Father’s rest.

So then, as death draws near – as it does to us all – we can take comfort in this: the Son of God has joined us in our predicament.  And He passed through the waters for us.  Jesus has taken on that final enemy, death, and burst out the other side.  If we belong to Him, He will bring us through to Canaan’s side:

When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside!

Our hearts did melt

Joshua 2:1-24

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Think of “heart-melting” today and you imagine a pop-tastic love song.  But just as “going weak at the knees” can denote love or fear so it is with this phrase.

Here’s the context.  The Israelites are about to go in and take possession of the land.  Once again they send out spies, this time two of them.  Given that last time there were two good spies – Joshua and Caleb – we have high hopes for this expedition.  As it turns out, they’re not exactly a special-forces crack unit.  As soon as they get to Jericho they head for the brothel!

But the LORD turns even evil to good.  As it happens, the prostitute, Rahab, has heard of the Israelites and the God of the Israelites.  In fact all the Canaanites have.  This is what she says:

And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.  (Joshua 2:9-14)

The Canaanites could not claim ignorance of the true God and His people.  He had proved Himself unmistakeably to the whole world.  And any of these foreigners who ever approached the Israelites for terms of peace met with a favourable response (e.g. Joshua 9).  Rahab and her household were no exception.

She is given a “true token” by which the invading Israelites would know to spare her.  It was a “scarlet thread” which was to hang from her window.

In Egypt, judgement passed over the Israelites when the LORD saw the red of the lamb’s blood painted on the door-frames.  So here in Jericho, the Israelites would pass over Rahab’s house when they saw the red of the scarlet thread.  Rahab was being taught just what it takes to be spared judgement.  There needs to be a death – the death of the Lamb to avert destruction.  And Rahab not only learns this truth.  She too becomes a part of this story.

Having been adopted into the LORD’s people (because adoption always comes with salvation) Rahab becomes an ancestor of the true Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (Matthew 1:5)!

Rahab’s story is not simply “shady lady come good”.  She goes from an object of wrath, to a saved soul, to adoption into the covenant people, to royalty in the family of King Messiah!  Her story is the story of anyone who turns to the LORD Jesus and trusts in His blood: salvation, adoption and enthronement!

All the Canaanites’ hearts melted with fear.  But very few of them turned to seek terms of peace.  Rahab did and found grace upon grace.  May our hearts not simply melt with fear.  May they melt with a trusting devotion to Christ the Lamb.

Kiss of death

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Deuteronomy 34:1-12

We can’t credit the Authorized Version with this one.  But it is Biblical.

Its origins go back further than people think: not with Mafia bosses, nor even with Judas but with Moses.  Here’s how it came about…

Moses has finished the last of his Deuteronomy sermons to the Israelites.  Now it’s time for him to die.  You see, at a key point in the life of Israel, he “had not believed” in the LORD (Numbers 20:8-12).  Therefore, like the rest of his faithless generation, he had to perish in the wilderness.  Mr Law would fall short of the promised rest because of unbelief.  It would be Joshua (whose name means “Jesus”) who brought them in.

However, even though his death in the wilderness was a sign of the law’s inability to save, Moses himself is very dear to the LORD.  Moses himself is saved even if he symbolizes faithless perishing.

If we were in any doubt about the LORD’s enduring love for Moses, we should read the details of his death in Deuteronomy 34.  Before he dies, the LORD allows Moses to see the promised land from the top of Mount Pisgah.  Just as the law pictures the Good Life but can’t produce it, so Moses can see the Good Land but can’t enter it.

Once he has surveyed the land of milk and honey, Moses dies “according to the word of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 34:5).  That’s the King James translation.  But here’s a more literal translation: Moses died “by the mouth of the LORD.”  It’s this that the ancient Rabbis picked up on.  They claimed that the LORD gave Moses a “kiss of death.”

In this way kisses bookend the writings of Moses.  His five books are called the ‘Pentateuch’ or the ‘Torah’, meaning ‘Law’.  They begin with a kiss of life for Adam (Genesis 2:7).  But they end with the kiss of death.

If you have to die it’s the best death imaginable.  But it’s still death.  What a terrible tragedy that those created to share in the life of God, should perish in the wilderness.

This is where the Law takes you – Pisgah not Canaan.  It might get you a kiss of death, but it’s still death!

How do you face death?  How do you face the futility of a life lived in the shadow of death?  Mount Pisgah represents the height of earthly expectations.  Here is the best we can hope for in our own strength: to survey a lifetime of labour and achievement.  But still, it’s not enough. Even the greatest lives fall short.  We all end up buried in the plains of Moab.  If our story ends here it is a terrible tragedy.

Where is the hope?

Back in Deuteronomy 18 there was a promise of a Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-20).  He would accomplish what the law never could.

At the end of Deuteronomy, we see the demise of Moses.  So where will this Prophet like Moses come from?

Could it be Joshua?  Well Deuteronomy 34:9 reminds us of Spirit-filled Joshua.  But even though Joshua would picture the work of the Messiah, he was not the One.  You see the Law ends with this assessment:

There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. (Deuteronomy 34:10)

Clearly Joshua was not the Prophet like Moses.  He was not the Accomplisher of the Law, the Bringer of Rest.  The Messiah was still to come.  And the people were still to look for Him.

Centuries later, the Prophet arose.  Moses’ LORD came in the flesh and, in many ways, He retraced the steps of Moses.  You see He too perished away from His community.  He too went up a mountain to die.  But it was not death-by-kisses for Jesus.  He would taste the full bitterness of death.  Curses were promised for our disobedience to the law.  And Jesus took the curses.  He drank down the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs. There was no face-to-face fellowship for Jesus as He called out to a black and silent heaven, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

If Moses’ death was the best way to go, his LORD’s death was the worst. But through it, we gain a face-to-face that is beyond death, and beyond imagining.

Thank God for the Prophet like Moses.  Through His death, He proves the true Joshua, bringing His people into the land of promise.  Jesus transforms life and death and the future.  Though we all deserve to perish – He takes the death; we get the kiss.

The apple of his eye

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Deuteronomy 32:1-44

It’s a saying that trip off the tongue.  It’s whispered by a doting father to his son; a protective husband to his wife; perhaps even a musician to their favourite instrument: “You’re the apple of my eye.”  We know that it means “my beloved”.  But for most of us, we’re not really sure why it means that.  What exactly is the “apple” of the eye anyway!

The phrase occurs a number of times in the King James Bible and was used in English translations prior to 1611.

It translates a Hebrew idiom that would mean, more literally, “little man of the eye.”  You could possibly also translate it “dark spot of the eye”.  And there you understand that it refers to the pupil.

In Old English, the pupil was called the apple of the eye as far back as the 9th century.  So between this Old English image and the Old Testament phrase we get “apple of the eye.”

The apple of your eye is incredibly vulnerable. It’s an area you are hugely protective of.  Our own eye sockets, eye lids and eyebrows surround this sensitive spot.  To lose an eye is not only incredibly disabling, but horribly shaming also (e.g. Judges 16:212 Kings 25:7).  Therefore protect our eyes at all costs.

So what does God treat as the apple of His eye?

For the LORD’S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.  He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:  So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.  He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.   (Deuteronomy 32:9-13)

[O LORD] Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings. (Psalm 17:8)

He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.  (Zechariah 2:8)

God’s people are the apple of His eye.  They are jealously loved, protected and honoured.

If you trust Jesus, you are the Lord’s Bride, Christ’s Body, the Vine’s Branches, the Father’s Children, the Spirit’s Anointed.  In short, you are the apple of His eye!

Man does not live by bread alone

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Deuteronomy 8:1-20

At the end of 40 years in the wilderness, the people come to the brink of the Promised Land.  This is the setting for the book of Deuteronomy.  Moses will not be going with the people into the land of milk and honey.  He is the leader of the old Israel and the bringer of law.  He will fall short of God’s “holy habitation.”  It will be Joshua (whose name means Jesus) who will bring a new Israel to the promised rest.

But before he dies, Moses preaches to the people.  The book of Deuteronomy consists of his sermons.  He tells the new generation where they have come from and what God has called them to.

In this famous passage we get a wonderful insight into the reasons for the wilderness years.  As we’ve seen before, we too are a wilderness people. We too have been saved out of slavery and await entrance to the promised rest.  So what is the LORD doing?  As Moses looks back on Israel’s experience, he will tell us the reasons behind it:

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.  And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)

These are such precious words.  Let’s consider the verbs here:

Led – We must remember that the LORD is still guiding His people.  Though He judged them for their unbelief, He did not abandon them.  Even under the LORD’s chastening the people have His presence.

Humbled – this verb is repeated in verse 2 and 3.

It’s not pleasant to be humbled.  It’s a word that can sometimes be translated “afflicted.”  It’s sometimes associated with bruising, with violation, with oppression, with bringing calamity upon someone.  And here the Bible says that the LORD leads us through the wilderness to humble us! This will be painful.  So why will He put us through this?

Proved – the LORD wants to know “what’s in their hearts”.  As we saw yesterday, He wants a heart-to-heart with us.  And a wilderness is a place where our hearts are revealed.  Of course, what comes out is not very nice.  But, as they say, ‘Better out than in.’

Suffered to hunger – this is a fearful truth.  The LORD ‘suffers His people to hunger’.  This is what wilderness times are for.  We naturally crave certain satisfactions.  We demand to be full of certain joys.  We refuse to feel empty.  But we have a LORD who causes us to hunger.  Sometimes He starves us – even of necessities!  Bread is a necessity.  Nonetheless, sometimes He will starve us.  Why?  The final two verbs provide the answer:

Fed – the LORD’s ultimate will is not to famish but to feed.  He only starves us in order to provide us with something even better.  In this case it’s manna – bread not baked with human hands; the bread of angels!  This bread finds its fulfilment in Jesus – the true Bread of life.  When we are weaned off the junk food of this world, Christ will satisfy our souls all the more.

To make thee know – here is the original ‘school of hard knocks’.  But it’s a deep knowledge – the kind of knowledge you only get in a howling wilderness.  The people are to know that there’s a more basic necessity than bread for the starving.  We need the LORD more than we need food.

In the wilderness, humbled and hungry, every word from the mouth of the LORD becomes precious, because we don’t have anything else.  We’re not in Egypt anymore – we don’t have those securities.  Everything is now about dependence.  We depend on daily bread, daily water, daily guidance.  All we have is the LORD Jesus who is with us and His promise of the future.

Every word from Him is precious.  His words assure us of His love and promise us a better hope.  We eat those words like the starving eat bread.

And so Moses concludes this section:

Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.  (Deuteronomy 8:5)

In our wilderness time we must realize that God is our Father.  He has not abandoned us.  The wilderness is not the sign He doesn’t love us.  It’s the sign He does love us.  And it’s the opportunity to discover just how precious His Son, the living Bread, really is.

Today, meditate on these verbs, and consider how they apply to your own wilderness time:

You are…




Suffered to hunger…



Made to know the true Bread…

Thou shalt love the LORD thy God

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Deuteronomy 6:1-9

“Feelings are feelings, they’re neither right nor wrong, it’s what you do with them that counts.”

How often have you heard this kind of sentiment?  (And interestingly, it is a sentiment!).

You’re as likely to hear it in church as anywhere else these days.  Even Christians will say that feelings are outside moral categories, what counts are acts of the will. According to this philosophy, all matters of the heart are ethically neutral.  Therefore the Christian life is about forgetting your feelings and getting on with the hard slog of discipleship.

But that’s not what we see in the Bible.  In fact throughout the Bible we see all sorts of expectations for our emotional life.  We’re meant to feel contentment  (Exodus 20:17), heart-felt love (1 Peter 1:22), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11); sorrow and joy (Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:4), desire (1 Peter 2:2), gratitude (Ephesians 5:19,20), to name just a few.

And right at the heart of the Old Testament we have this saying, known traditionally as “the shema“.  To a Jew these are probably the most famous words of Scripture, the ones they are most likely to know by heart.  Jesus Himself quotes it, calling it ‘the first and greatest commandment’ (Matthew 22:37). But these words put a bomb under our cultural stoicism:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

There is a logic to the verse: Because of God’s oneness we are to love.  As we discussed when we thought about “one flesh” – the way God is one is like the way husband and wife are “one.”  They are united in love.  And as this verse says, “the LORD, our God, the LORD” is one.  God is one because God is love.  And God is love because God is Trinity.

Therefore “thou shalt love.”  That’s the logic.  To know God is to become godly.  And to be godly is to love.

The first and greatest commandment is directed emphatically at our affections.  We ought to be lovers of God, with our heart, soul and might.

The heart speaks of our innermost being.  It’s about what we treasure.  (Matthew 6:21)

The “soul” is the same word in Hebrew as “throat”.  It’s about what we thirst for.

Our “might” is, literally, our “muchness”.  It’s about our whole person given over to God.

The LORD does not want will-driven stoics but warm-hearted lovers.  This is the essence of the Good Life which God has for us.

Of course commandments can never make us love God.  Yet this is a true description of the Good Life.  And it’s not about grim-faced determination to do right.  It’s about love – heart-felt, thirsty, mighty love!

Have we settled for something less?  Have we relegated our emotions to the basement of the Christian life?  Perhaps we know that our feelings are there, we just don’t think of them as belonging to our discipleship.  Well allow the first and greatest commandment to challenge us, and to challenge us at the heart!  Love is central, vital, indispensible – the “heart and soul” of our walk with God.

To be clear – the law cannot whip up these feelings and neither can we.  It’s only when we see God’s love for us, expressed in Jesus, that our hearts are won:

We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

But when we appreciate His love, this is what is birthed in us – not strong-willed determination but heart-felt affections.  If love is not central to our gospel response, perhaps we’ve got the wrong gospel.  The Christian life is an affair of the heart.

What God hath wrought

Numbers 23:13-26

“What hath God wrought” was the first message Samuel Morse tapped out on his new invention.  It’s almost certainly that fact (more than its original appearance in Scripture) that lies behind its fame.

Interestingly, today if it’s said at all, it refers more to terrible tragedies than great discoveries.  (Perhaps that reflects a different view of God, or technology, or both!)

When we think of a mighty act of God we think of a disaster.  Morse thought of an invention.  But in the Bible God’s work is a whole lot more personal.  As we’ll see, what God “hath wrought” is a people – an unbreakable, forever-blessed people.

The phrase appears in Numbers chapter 23.  The Moabite, Balaam, has been contracted as a freelance prophet to curse the Israelites.  But when King Balak makes his second demand for a magical malediction, here’s what Balaam says:

Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor: God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?  Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.  He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.  God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! (Numbers 23:18-23)

Balaam is stressing the resolute character of God.  There is a work to which God is immovably committed: He has determined to bless the seed of Abraham.  Nothing can undo this blessing.  No coercion from outside (an enchantment or divination) and no u-turn from within (God’s repentance) will thwart this.

What God hath wrought is a people.  He has blessed this people, saved this people, and even after all we’ve seen, He refuses to credit them with “iniquity” or “perverseness”!  No foreign power can ruin God’s work and not even their own sin can spoil it.  The LORD makes it His crowning achievement to create a people for Himself.

What is God’s great work?  The Grand Canyon?  The blue whale?  No His great work is to build a family.  The Father has blessed His Son forever, filling Him with His eternal Spirit.  And He has forever desired brothers and sisters for His Son (Romans 8:29).  His work of redemption is to sweep these up by His Spirit into His Son that they may be blessed in the Beloved.

If you belong to Christ you are a member of this uncurseable people (Galatians 3:29).  You are eternally secure.  God will not repent of His work.  Your sin will not cost you your position.  No dark art can dislodge you from your place.  You are some piece of work!

Behold, what God hath wrought!

Fell flat on his face

Numbers 22:31-40

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When we say “I fell flat on my face” we’re usually speaking figuratively.

The young romantic might say, “I tried to impress her with my scant knowledge of Shakespeare. Turns out, she has a PhD in English Literature. I fell flat on my face!”

We use the phrase to indicate embarrassment.  But in the Bible, falling on one’s face is always literal.  And it is moved by something a lot stronger than social awkwardness.

To fall flat on one’s face happens just the once in the King James translation – Numbers 22:31.  But that’s the phrase that has entered common parlance.

Balaam is the one to have fallen flat on his face.  And in his case, he falls in shame.

As we saw yesterday, he has just been rebuked by his own donkey.  Then…

the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.”  (Numbers 22:31)

Here is a revelation of Christ – the Angel of the LORD.  He is the Word of the Father, the Radiance of God’s Glory, the Eternal Bridegroom, the Commander of the LORD’s Host, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He’s the same one who met Abraham in Genesis 17, Moses inExodus 3, Joshua in Joshua 5, Isaiah in Isaiah 6, Peter in Luke 5, Paul in Acts 9 and John in Revelation 1.

On all these occasions, there’s an overwhelming weight of glory.  Their strength gave way and they fell flat on their faces.  When Christ appears in glory, no-one can stand. Knees buckle, chests sink, arms go limp and faces hit the floor.

For Balaam it was a shaming.  For those listed above, it was worship.  But everyone falls when Christ is revealed in glory.

Today, look around you.  There are those who walk tall in this life but have no love for Jesus.  They will be brought low.

Then there are those who are down at heel yet they trust in Christ.  They will fall in wonder and be lifted in mercy.

One day soon we will all be flat on our faces – some to everlasting shame, others to everlasting joy and gratitude.

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;  And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

Brazen serpent

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Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:13-16

What is faith?

Often people consider faith to be a special quality that the religious happen to possess.  It’s like some magic elixir.  Apparently some people have lots of faith coursing through their veins, others have very little.

But how does Jesus think of faith?

When Jesus wanted to explain faith to a Bible scholar, He retold the story of the brazen serpent.  It’s an odd story, but let me give you the details:

The Israelites have been wandering through the wilderness and they’ve been doing what they do so well – grumbling:

the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. (Numbers 21:4-5)

How seriously do we consider grumbling?  As the characteristic sin of the Israelites in the wilderness, it provokes the LORD’s anger more than any other sin.  God wants our hearts, and He takes discontentment as a personal affront.  He sends judgement:

And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. (v6)

Here God’s people are handed over to diabolical powers.  Serpents remind us of that ancient serpent from Genesis 3, the devil.  The people are given over to Satan in judgement.

But judgement is not God’s final word.  Judgement is the context for the LORD to reveal His salvation:

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.  And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (v7-9)

The people are saved by simply looking at the bronze serpent.  The very thing that caused them harm is their salvation if only they look.

It seems such a strange story.  Why would Jesus be so keen to draw attention to it?

Here’s what He says:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)

Numbers is our story.  We are the faithless grumblers.  We too are sick with sin, awaiting death.  There’s only one cure – behold the One lifted up.  He became the very thing that afflicted us – He became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).  And now, what must we do to be saved?


That’s it.  Just behold.  We are simply to “look and live” (Numbers 21:9).

Don’t ignore the snake bites.  Don’t try to reason with God.  Don’t try to suck out the poison.  Don’t offer up some sacrifice of your own devising.  Don’t turn to some voodoo spell.  Don’t ask Moses to save you.  Just look to the One lifted up.

So what is faith?

Faith is not a quality you find within yourself.  Faith is looking away from yourself.  Faith is not a thing you conjure up.  Faith is beholding something else (Someone else!).  Faith is looking to Jesus.

Many people say they would like to have faith, or they would like to have more faith.  But the answer is not to have “more faith”.  It’s to have “more Christ!”  When we behold Him, that is faith.  Therefore the life of faith, is the life of setting Christ before our eyes and saying to our souls: Behold!  Behold the Lamb of God!  Behold the Lord of Glory lifted up for you!  On the cross, He became our sin, so that we might become His righteousness.

If you want to have faith, don’t look to yourself, don’t look to Moses (through some regime of law keeping), just look to Jesus.

Why? Because,

whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:15-16)

Balaam's ass

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Numbers 22:21-30

Christianity is big business today.  Speakers can command live audiences of tens, even hundreds of thousands.  Millions more can watch their videos or buy their books.  What should we make of their popularity?  How should we assess their ministry?

Balaam’s ass is in the Bible to remind us that speaking spiritual words does not guarantee a speaker’s spirituality!

Balaam was a Moabite who lived at the time of the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings.  He was a prophet whose services were sought by his king, Balak.  Balak was worried that the Israelites were a threat to Moab so he asks Balaam to curse Israel.  He says of Balaam:

he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed. (Numbers 22:6)

Balak seems to think that Balaam is a kind of Abraham figure – that he has the power to bless and curse peoples (cf Genesis 12:1-3).  But when Balaam himself consults the LORD he’s told:

thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.  (Numbers 22:12)

Whatever powers Balaam is said to have, the seed of Abraham is uncurseable!  The LORD has blessed the seed of Abraham and has blessed it irreversibly.

In the next couple of days we’ll see what happens when Balaam is brought before Balak and asked to call down these curses.  But our incident for today happens on the road there.  Whatever awe Balaam is held in by his own people, the Scriptures take him down a peg or two.

The prophet is riding his donkey, but when the Angel of the LORD (Christ Himself!) turns up on the road, we see just how much spiritual insight he has.  The donkey sees Christ, the prophet is blind.

And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way. But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again.  And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.  And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.  (Numbers 22:23-27)

This great man – lauded by multitudes and known as a spiritual leader – can’t see the Prophet of prophets.  But not only does a donkey prove to have better spiritual sight, he also has better speech too.  To shame this prophet even further, the LORD allows Balaam’s ass to rebuke him:

And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?  And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.  And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.  (Numbers 22:28-30)

It’s so comical!  The donkey speaks, and Balaam speaks back as though nothing strange has happened. Then the donkey wins the argument: All the prophet can say in reply is “Nay!”

Here’s the message: Yes, ‘spiritual men’ can speak arresting words.  They can even speak true words.  And millions may listen to them.  But even if they occasionally speak truth, it is only what the LORD has allowed to be said.  And the credit never lies with such speakers. The LORD can make a donkey speak if He wishes.

We mustn’t be lead astray by spiritual speakers today.  If they speak any truth it’s no testimony to their wisdom, only the LORD’s who can even speak through dumb animals.  The real test is whether the speaker sees Jesus.  He is Truth and the test of it.  Let’s not be impressed by speakers.  Let’s pray that they see Jesus.  And let’s look to Him ourselves.