South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, NJ –Men’s Evening Chapel on 12/17/2017
(edited July 2021)
Tonight I want to speak to you on the general theme of gifts and giving. We will be looking, mainly, into Numbers chapter 17. By the way, we have a small Christmas gift for each of you tonight at the end of this service. It has been fully approved by the chaplain and is supplied to you by our church at Aldine in Elmer, NJ. [note: It was an attractive Nativity Bookmark with a hand-written Christmas Greeting from the church.]
Bible scholars have pointed out that sometimes people in the Old Testament can be viewed as “types” or forerunners of people that would come along later. For instance, we might see Moses as a type of Christ in Deuteronomy 18:18-19, where God told Moses,
“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.”
Paul reminds us, in the New Testament, in I Corinthians 10:11-12 that the people and the events of the Old Covenant are still profitable for us to study. He says:
“Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
So, with all this in mind, I want to share with you my personal Bible study this week in the Book of Numbers chapter 17. We will see right away that God sets up a contest among the Children of Israel because they had been questioning the leadership of Moses and Moses’ brother, Aaron.
Verses 1-5: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod according to the house of their fathers, of all their princes according to the house of their fathers twelve rods: write thou every man's name upon his rod. And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi: for one rod shall be for the head of the house of their fathers. And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you. And it shall come to pass, that the man's rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you.”
Some of the people had been “murmuring.” I want to say that if you are called by God today to serve Him in any capacity, sooner or later, you will also hear some murmurings. And just like with Moses and Aaron, the only way you will be able to continue to serve the Lord will be by His intervention into your life and ministry.
Verses 6-9: “And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, and every one of their princes gave him a rod apiece, for each prince one, according to their fathers' houses, even twelve rods: and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod.”
Now that was a SPECIAL DELIVERY! That was an amazing gift from God to Aaron! And this gift, unlike so many during the Holiday season, this gift was destined to be held onto, kept close, and remembered for a long, long time:
Verses 10-13: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not. And Moses did so: as the Lord commanded him, so did he. And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish. Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the Lord shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?”
Aaron’s Rod was to be placed in the very Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle! It would rest right next to the Tablet containing the 10 Commandments and the pot of Manna with which God miraculously fed them all on their journey. I told you earlier that I think Aaron represents us as we struggle with our faith, and our service for Christ amidst all the murmurings of this life. Why, sometimes I have even murmured against my own ministry! Maybe not out loud but from down in my heart where only God and myself can hear it and I’m certainly not proud to admit that.
At Aldine Church, as I believe you do here, we have special communion services to remember the Work of Jesus on our behalf at His Last Supper with His Disciples and on into the garden and Calvary. The Ark in the Tabernacle, a box or chest, was something like that for Ancient Israel. A place to be reminded. Every good relationship requires a good memory, and that includes our relationship with the Lord.
Why was the Rod added to this collection? It represented life overcoming death, hope overcoming despair, and Truth overcoming murmurings and lies about God and about His servants. The flowers and almonds that grew from that dead stick were a direct answer to the murmurings of the people. To better understand the whole background of this incident we need to back on up into Numbers chapter 16.
“Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, 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?”
The ring-leader of this rebellion was named Korah. He is specifically used as a bad example in the New Testament (for that see the Book of Jude at verse 11). Here’s what happened to Korah:
“And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:”
And this is what God told Moses to tell Korah:
“This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company; And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the Lord to morrow: 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.”
“Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them? And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?”
Korah was a Levite who was already entitled to serve in the Tabernacle, but he wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted to do Aaron’s ministry. He wanted to be the High Priest, not just one who served the Tabernacle. He wanted to have equal say with Moses. But the Lord was only speaking through Moses. This man Korah was very religious. He was all about religion and spiritual pride and religious ambition! And those things get you into a lot of trouble. Look at this:
“And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the Lord, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them. And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow: And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the Lord every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer. And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron. And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation.”
Moses was so frustrated. He knew he had served God and the People of God honestly and sincerely. And now Moses begins to prophesy:
“And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.”
One thing I learned from this study, this week, is that Almighty God is not Santa Claus. God is slow to anger, and we Praise Him for that, but He is also righteous and complete in His judgement. He’s not trying to terrorize ANYBODY and He Loves everybody. It’s true, but that is not to say that He can be mocked without consequences:
“And there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.”
If all you want to believe in this Holiday Season is Santa Claus, then maybe this passage isn’t for you. I’ll tell you something, it’s very challenging for me. The murmurings of Korah turned out to be deadly. And not just for Korah. The murmurings had spread and grown among the people. And, just like the Gospel can leave behind seeds that sometime later may grow up into true faith, murmurings against the Lord may linger too and re-surface at any time. The negative influence of just one person can be tragic. Look at what was happening then:
“But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.”
Now, my purpose tonight is not to try to condemn any of these people or anybody else. The person I need to watch most closely is myself. Have I, at times, resented the Lord’s judgments in my life? Or resented Him and maybe even criticized some of His servants because I wasn’t pleased with what was going on in my life as I perceived it at that time? Before I was a Christian, definitely. And now, yes, even now at times.
I’ll tell you something else I realized this week. Just like some of them in Ancient Israel, I have failed to see God’s hand at work in our world today. I can still get all smug and to try to act as if everything that happens in the modern world must now be explained by medicine, science, luck, etc. I confess to you that I live sometimes as if I was in total control of my life. And when I think and act that way, aren’t I sinning every bit as much as these people were sinning by murmured against the LORD?
I used to hear the old-timers pray something like this: “Lord, I thank you for waking me up this mornin’. I thank you for putting breath into my lungs, food in my stomach, and a roof over my head.” I realize now, more than ever, that they knew what they were talking about! I think I used to half laugh at them, but I should be bowing down and praying like that every day! God is not Santa Claus. God is real. His judgments are real. His Love is real and His blessings are all real! But some thing else that is real is that you can cross the line with Him, too:
“And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun.”
I know we have close soon, but did you notice Aaron, here? Remember earlier, I mention that Aaron, the brother of Moses is, to me, more a representation of us than of Christ. Aaron struggled at faith. He’s a little like the Apostle Peter who came along later in the New Testament.
Back at Mt. Sinai Aaron had feared the people so much that he turned his back on God and built a golden calf as an idol for them to party around and worship. Now, that’s a real failure! But people who fail (like me) can still grow in their faith because all things are possible with God. Just look at how this man had changed:
“And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah. And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.”
Aaron, like many of us today, was weak and imperfect at times. But he grew in his faith and in spiritual strength. And, in my opinion, from what I read in the Scriptures, Aaron overcame his fear of the people with love for the people. That was God’s work in his life! Remember now, for forty years, the People of God had to bring their sacrifices to Aaron so he and the priests could offer them to the Lord. They would bring in their most valuable animals whose offered blood was, at that time, an attempt to cover their sins. Sins of commission and sins of omission. Thousands of sins and thousands of sacrifices. Old Aaron must have heard a lot of confessions out on that wilderness march! And I think he wound up consoling a lot of people. He knew, personally, what it meant to fail the Lord and to regret it.
And you know what happened, the people began to love him back. You can see it in Numbers 20:28-29, a couple chapters down the road from where we’ve been studying tonight. Look at how the Children of Israel responded to Aaron’s death. Listen to what the Bible says:
“And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.”
Time restrains us, and I know you have to move on, but let me just assign you a little homework, if you want it. Sometime this week get out your Bible and compare Aaron’s priesthood to the believer’s priesthood today as described by the Apostle Peter in I Peter 2:5-10. And if you really need something else to do, compare Aaron’s priestly garments (which are physically laid out in Exodus chapter 28) with our spiritual garments as described to the church at Colossae by the Apostle Paul in Colossians chapter 3. That’s I Peter 2:5-10, and then compare Exodus 28 with Colossians 3.
Thank you, as always, for your patience with me tonight and please take one of the gifts on the way out if you would like one. Merry Christmas to each of you. Let’s pray.