Well, what do you think of Israel’s journey through the wilderness with God? (Especially in Numbers 11-20).
It’s a rough journey. They finally get to Canaan’s boarder in chapter 13, send in 12 spies, get a bad report and become discouraged and rebel and decide to go back to Egypt, then under God’s punishment decree of 40 years more in the wilderness, they decide to disobey God again and go take on the Canaanites and just enter the land without God’s presence. Not a good idea!
Numbers 14:34 is an ominous verse: God says, “For forty years, one year for each of the forty days you explored the land, you will suffer for your sins and know what it it like to have me against you.”
Think of that! A forty year sentence of knowing what it is like to have God against you! This has got to be the worst physical, earthly condition a human can experience. Made in the image of God, offered deliverance from sin by God, given intense immediate access to God’s power and manifested miracles, Israel was enormously privileged. God was doing what He promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He would do with their descendants. Israel isn’t cooperating very well with the plan. Here in Numbers we see how God gave over the first generation to their own devises and rescued their children for Himself. God WILL keep His promises. God WILL build Israel into a holy nation, whether they like it or not. God wins. He can out last you. He can work with you and bless you, or He can work against you and curse you, but God wins.
Last week we introduced the idea of holiness and it got some of your attention. God’s command: “Be holy, as I, the Lord your God am holy” is not a negotiable matter for God’s people. Becoming holy, like it or not, is the title of my lesson today. This week’s reading of Numbers 5-23 puts this into perspective for us. What does it take to make a holy nation? What process does God use to accomplish this work?
Notice, God doesn’t wave His magic wand across Israel and voila! they are holy! He doesn’t even force them to accept and love Him. But God is the King. He is the ruler of Israel. God has brought them into covenant with Himself and Israel is in His domain now, under His reign and authority as Lord, God and King. It’s like God has brought Israel into His house. In fact, God’s room is right there in the middle of their camp, and theirs are all around His. The camp itself becomes a place of cleanness and holiness. The closer you get to God’s room, the more care you must take and the more holy it gets. In the tabernacle itself is this ONE ROOM called the “holy of holies” and that’s where God’s presence dwells most intensely. The furniture in the tabernacle is holy and is dangerous to even look upon without permission from God. Remember, when they were to break camp and Aaron and his sons were the only ones allowed to go prepare everything in the tabernacle for transport? Numbers 4:15-20 tells about it. (read).
Look at verse 20 again. The Kohathites were not to go in and even look at the holy things or they would die.
Holiness is deadly serious business.
A possible illustration is how we have to handle highly radioactive materials. The energy released from some of these will kill you just by being too close to it without protection. Holiness is not simply being set apart. Holiness REQUIRES being set apart from the unholy. It is highly corrosive and dangerous to the unholy. Without containment, the holy will destroy the unholy. It looks a lot like wrath.
God is a radiant being who’s very nature is holy. His holiness is with an intense glory. The New Testament speaks of HIm as dwelling in unapproachable light.
John 1:18, 1 Timothy 1:17, 6:15-16, James 1:17, 1 John 1:5.
While the Israelites by in large were afraid to go near God, Moses seems drawn to God like a magnet! He can’t get enough of God’s presence. At the golden calf incident when God told Moses that He would not go with them, Moses balked, big time. He basically said, “Lord, if you don’t go with us, we can’t go anywhere!” God agrees to go with them, and Moses then asks to see God. Remember? That was way back in Exodus 33 – 34.
Moses was given the privilege of seeing as much of God as he could live through and when Moses came down from the mountain, Moses’ face radiated with light. When the people saw it, they not only were afraid of God, they were also afraid of Moses!
The holiness of God impacts those who draw close to Him and has a transforming work on us. 2 Cor. 3:7-18 discusses this and applies it to Christians who have a more glorious covenant with God than the covenant of God through Moses. Look at verse 17-18. (read).
Moses loved God and God defended Moses. Remember when Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses? (Num. 12). God called them on the carpet and Miriam, who seems to have led the complaint is struck with Leprosy. Though God heals her, she spends a week outside the camp in that condition. Later, in Numbers 16, Korah, Dathan and Abiram and 250 other leaders rise up against Moses and again God defends Moses and all the rebels die.
One final observation about holiness: nearing the end of their wanderings when they have no water and God tells Moses to speak to a certain rock and it will pour out water for them, Moses and Aaron gather the people before this rock and Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff. God tells Moses and Aaron these words: “Because you did not trust me enough to honor Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Of all people to fail to honor God as holy, Moses and Aaron should know better. This was no mistake, it was a lack of trust. Even Moses did not escape the discipline of God for this violation. Moses was forgiven, saved, and even appeared with Elijah when Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration. This failure did not cut Moses off from God’s grace and love. But it did bring about a consequence that Moses regretted. God is holy. His holiness is not to be violated… by anybody, period. Or there will be consequences.
In your groups this afternoon you can discuss the details of this more, but this morning, let’s consider the big picture and make applications from that.
1. Becoming holy is a work of God on a chosen people.
What do these verses have in common? Exodus 31:13, Leviticus 20:8, 21:8, 22:32.
All of them say that God is the one who sanctifies you. That word sanctify is the word “make holy.” It is also translated: consecrate to God, or dedicate to God. But the idea always has the implication of belonging to and being used by and in the likeness of God.
God is the one who selects and who sanctifies or makes holy. It just so happens that Christians are also chosen by God to become holy. Like it or not, that’s what God’s plan is for your life if you are a Christian. He chooses and then He begins His work on our consecration or sanctification on you. Now, like Israel, you can resist. You can rebel. But you can’t win that way. You will only succeed in stirring up God’s wrath. Eph. 5:1-7 speak again.
God’s strongest warnings are for those who God calls. Jesus said in Luke 9:62, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. In fact, God tells us that it would be better for you NOT to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then turn your backs on the HOLY commandment that was passed on to you. 2 Peter 2:20-22, Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-27.
2. Above all, God wants you to be holy. Above happiness, coolness, thrills and fun, God wants you to be holy. Before comforts and affluence God wants you to be holy. Rather than having it your way, God wants you to have it His way. He commands us to be holy, as He is holy. This command is necessary because God WILL NOT magically transform you without your cooperation. He DOES transform those who are cooperative! God DOES take pleasure in obedience from us! God REWARDS those who are faithful. But, listen to me now, God can even kill you if you resist. If Numbers 5-21 teach us anything, it teaches us what happens to those that resist and rebel against God’s work of making His people holy.
But is that also in the New Testament? Look at 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Hebrews 12:5-11, Rev. 3:19. Do these verses still apply to us today?
3. Holiness must also be received and maintained through faithful obedience. We have to take care to keep the holy from defilement. Being holy and living in a world of unholiness presents a challenge. Once we partake of the heavenly calling and experience the holy communion with God and His people, we must be diligent and faithful. Being brought into the house of God is one thing, living there in His presence as we walk in this fallen world is another. We are all flawed and fallen sinners. We are all unworthy of God’s grace in calling us back to Himself. We must all go through trials and tribulations in this world BEFORE we enter eternal glory and are finally free from the corruption of this world. God knows us. He understands that we struggle. Jesus says, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”
Moses wanted to be near God. Most of the Israelites didn’t. Which of these do you identify with most?