Have you ever found parts of the Bible to be a little boring? I hope lightning doesn’t strike our house tonight (just kidding!) but I’ll admit that I find myself sighing when I come to a place in the Bible like Numbers where a census of the Israelites is being taken and I’m reading how many thousands of each clan were enumerated, etc.
Well, this morning I saw that I had come to such a chapter, so I quickly prayed before I read – something like “Lord, please speak to me through Your Word today – not that I deserve it but because You are faithful and Your Word does not return void. You deserve to be known.” And God was/is faithful! All day I’ve thought about these two chapters that I read this morning, and I think the lesson I received is worth sharing!
My reading this morning was Numbers 25-26, which begins “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to INDULGE in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them” (Numbers 25:1-3). In fact, the Lord was so angry that He ordered everyone who had indulged themselves and worshiped another god be put to death (Numbers 25:4), and He sent a plague that killed 24,000 people (Numbers 25:9).
When the plague ended, the Lord told Moses to take another census of the Israelite community (Numbers 26:1-2). I remembered that the book of Numbers started out with a census, so I quickly flipped back and forth between the first chapter and chapter 26 to see what changes had occurred. Some tribes had lost significant numbers – for example, the descendants of Simeon had dropped by 37,100 and the descendants of Ephraim (son of Joseph) had lost 32,960 members. On the other hand, many tribes had gained numbers during this time. The tribe of Joseph’s other son Manasseh had gained 20,500 people; and in second place, the tribe of Asher had gained 11,900 folks. From the first census to the second, the number of Israelites had decreased by 1,820 people total.
As the Lord continued to speak to Moses in Numbers 26, He told him that the Promised Land was to be allotted to the Israelites as an inheritance based on the number of names in their clan (Numbers 26:53). And this is where the significance of this passage really hit me, so I hope you’re still with me at this point! Remember that when the people sinned by overindulging, God was so angry that He facilitated the death of many of them (only stopping because of the zeal of the priest Phinehas, who killed a couple blatantly rebelling). Those deaths affected the numbers of the clans (so is it possible to infer that some tribes were indulging more than others based on how the number shook out?). The entire community was then affected because their inheritance was based on the numbers of each tribe that were left.
I’ve thought all day about the consequences of indulging ourselves. Many times in the Bible I see where sexual immorality and food (sacrificed to idols) seem to go hand-in-hand (For example, 1 Corinthians 6:13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Other passages include Acts 15:29, Revelations 2:14 and Revelations 2:20). Indulging in sexual immorality or overeating are both instances of gratifying our desire for something pleasurable rather than what is actually good for it. Neither sex nor food is wrong when it’s done God’s way, but when we indulge ourselves and worship things other than God, we run into trouble! And significant trouble!
Some people died as a consequence from indulging – but even worse, not only did they not reach the Promised Land that God had intended for them, they hurt their family in receiving their inheritance! The effect of their sin rippled into the entire community, changing the portion of God’s gift that their clan would receive.
Does our sin today affect others around us to this extent? Unfortunately, I think it does even more than we realize. When we indulge in gratifying ourselves rather than being “zealous for [God’s] honor” (Numbers 25:11) we need to think about the ramifications. This has been a huge struggle for me these last few days! I tend to want to eat when I’m feeling stressed and indulge in what I know is bad for me when I think it will make me feel better. But, after reading today’s passage, I want to take a moment to think about it instead and choose to be more zealous for God’s honor than my own pleasure. Please pray that I can stay focused! And I’ll pray for you, too!
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithfulness! Thank You for Your Word and that it does not return void. God, I don’t think any single Word is ‘extra’ in the Bible. I know that there is significance in all passages – please help us learn what You want us to know about You. May we be zealous for Your honor! May we seek You first and let everything else fall into place. Father God, we confess that there are times we’ve indulged in pleasures rather than living for Your glory alone. Please forgive us! Please cover our sins with the blood of Jesus. May we start fresh thinking before we indulge about how important it is that we worship You alone. May we glorify You in all we say, do and even eat. May our lives be a reflection of Your holiness. Please help us be healthy and thin for Your glory. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!