February 22, 2015

Numbers 15-17 - God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, When you enter your homeland that I am giving to you and sacrifice a Fire-Gift to God, a Whole-Burnt-Offering or any sacrifice from the herd or flock for a Vow-Offering or Freewill-Offering at one of the appointed feasts, as a pleasing fragrance for God, the one bringing the offering shall present to God a Grain-Offering of two quarts of fine flour mixed with a quart of oil. With each lamb for the Whole-Burnt-Offering or other sacrifice, prepare a quart of oil and a quart of wine as a Drink-Offering....

Every native-born Israelite is to follow this procedure when he brings a Fire-Gift as a pleasing fragrance to God. In future generations, when a foreigner or visitor living at length among you presents a Fire-Gift as a pleasing fragrance to God, the same procedures must be followed. The community has the same rules for you and the foreigner living among you. This is the regular rule for future generations. You and the foreigner are the same before God. The same laws and regulations apply to both you and the foreigner who lives with you....

But if you should get off the beaten track and not keep the commands which God spoke to Moses, any of the things that God commanded you under the authority of Moses from the time that God first commanded you right up to this present time, and if it happened more or less by mistake, with the congregation unaware of it, then the whole congregation is to sacrifice...  The priest is to atone for the entire community of the People of Israel and they will stand forgiven.... 

But the person, native or foreigner, who sins defiantly, deliberately blaspheming God, must be cut off from his people: He has despised God’s word, he has violated God’s command; that person must be kicked out of the community, ostracized, left alone in his wrongdoing....

God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them that from now on they are to make tassels on the corners of their garments and to mark each corner tassel with a blue thread. When you look at these tassels you’ll remember and keep all the commandments of God, and not get distracted by everything you feel or see that seduces you into infidelities. The tassels will signal remembrance and observance of all my commandments, to live a holy life to God. I am your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt to be your personal God. Yes, I am God, your God.”

Getting on his high horse one day, Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, along with a few Reubenites—rebelled against Moses. He had with him 250 leaders of the congregation of Israel, prominent men with positions in the Council. They came as a group and confronted Moses and Aaron, saying, “You’ve overstepped yourself. This entire community is holy and God is in their midst. So why do you act like you’re running the whole show?”

On hearing this, Moses threw himself facedown on the ground.  Then he addressed Korah and his gang: “In the morning God will make clear who is on his side, who is holy. God will take his stand with the one he chooses....Moses continued with Korah, “Listen well now, sons of Levi. Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has selected you out of the congregation of Israel to bring you near him to serve in the ministries of The Dwelling of God, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? He has brought you and all your brother Levites into his inner circle, and now you’re grasping for the priesthood, too. It’s God you’ve ganged up against, not us. What do you have against Aaron that you’re bad-mouthing him?”

Moses then ordered Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, to appear, but they said, “We’re not coming. Isn’t it enough that you yanked us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you keep trying to boss us around! Face it, you haven’t produced: You haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, you haven’t given us the promised inheritance of fields and vineyards. You’d have to poke our eyes out to keep us from seeing what’s going on. Forget it, we’re not coming.”  Moses’ temper blazed white-hot.... 

The next morning, they brought their censers filled with fire and incense and stood at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Moses and Aaron did the same.  It was Korah and his gang against Moses and Aaron at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The entire community could see the Glory of God.  God said to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from this congregation so that I can finish them off and be done with them.  They threw themselves on their faces and said, “O God, God of everything living, when one man sins are you going to take it out on the whole community?”  God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the community. Tell them, Back off from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram....So they all backed away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram by now had come out and were standing at the entrance to their tents with their wives, children, and babies.  Moses continued to address the community: 

“This is how you’ll know that it was God who sent me to do all these things and that it wasn’t anything I cooked up on my own. If these men die a natural death like all the rest of us, you’ll know that it wasn’t God who sent me. But if God does something unprecedented—if the ground opens up and swallows the lot of them and they are pitched alive into Sheol—then you’ll know that these men have been insolent with God.  The words were hardly out of his mouth when the Earth split open... all the human beings connected with Korah, along with everything they owned.... Then God sent lightning. The fire cremated the 250 men who were offering the incense....

Grumbling broke out the next day in the community of Israel, grumbling against Moses and Aaron: “You have killed God’s people!”  But it so happened that when the community got together against Moses and Aaron, they looked over at the Tent of Meeting and there was the Cloud—the Glory of God for all to see.  Moses and Aaron stood at the front of the Tent of Meeting. God spoke to Moses: “Back away from this congregation so that I can do away with them this very minute.”
They threw themselves facedown on the ground. Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and fill it with incense, along with fire from the Altar. Get to the congregation as fast as you can: make atonement for them. Anger is pouring out from God—the plague has started!”  The plague had already begun... He stood there between the living and the dead and stopped the plague.  14,700 people died from the plague, not counting those who died in the affair of Korah.  Aaron then went back to join Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The plague was stopped.

God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Get staffs from them—twelve staffs in all, one from the leader of each of their ancestral tribes. Write each man’s name on his staff....  Now lay them out in the Tent of Meeting in front of The Testimony where I keep appointments with you. What will happen next is this: The staff of the man I choose will sprout. I’m going to put a stop to this endless grumbling by the People of Israel against you....Moses walked into the Tent of Testimony the next day and saw that Aaron’s staff, the staff of the tribe of Levi, had in fact sprouted—buds, blossoms, and even ripe almonds!... God said to Moses, “Return Aaron’s staff to the front of The Testimony. Keep it there as a sign to rebels. This will put a stop to the grumbling against me and save their lives.” Moses did just as God commanded him....

Romans 4 - So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into the new way of looking at things?... the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham story...

Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point.  He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own... that trusting-Him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God’s sheer gift.  David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man...

Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised?...

We all agree, don’t we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God.  That declaration was made before he was marked.  That means that he underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had done long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with him...

And it means further that Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the “outs” with God, as yet unidentified as God’s, in an “uncircumcised” condition who are called “set right by God and with God”!  

That famous promise God gave Abraham--was not given because of something Abraham did or would do.  It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed.  

If those who get what God gives them only get it  by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract.  That’s not a holy promise, that’s a business deal...

This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does.  

God’s promise arrives as pure gift....For Abraham is father of us all.  He is not our racial father--that’s reading the story backward.  He is our faith father.  We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made everything out of Abraham when he was a nobody.  

As Scripture states, “I set you as father of many peoples”?  Abraham was named first ‘father‘ and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do:  raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing.  

When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do....

He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions.  He plunged into the promise and come up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said.  That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.”  

But it’s not just Abraham;  it’s also us!  The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless.  the sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.