Fires, Idolatry, and Moses’ Skills – Numbers 25-26

Read Numbers 25-26

Midianite women allure Israelite men into promiscuity and the worship of Baal. This act threatens the very existence of Israel and challenges the heart of their relationship with God. Someone must act to stop this national tragedy.

On June 17, 2002 Federal authorities arrested a United States Forest Service employee for starting the largest fire in Colorado’s history. Terry Barton was a 38-year-old woman and had worked every summer for the Forest Service for 18 or 19 years. She had ventured into the forest to burn a letter form her estranged husband. She had evidently become angry with him and burning the note was perhaps her emotional release. Yet, because of dry conditions in the Pike National Forest, she was unable to extinguish the fire as quickly as she had desired and the fire burned out of control.

At the time the fire began, Barton was under orders to patrol for fires in the vicinity where she had started the fire. This fire that was to be the largest in the state’s history burning over 130 homes with an estimated total cost of damage ranging anywhere from $27 million to almost $40 million dollars. In all, more than 137,000 acres burned causing Colorado Governor Bill Owens to say, “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning.”

In this strange juxtaposition of events, Terry Barton who was to prevent fires in the Colorado forest had now begun a fire. The irony of the one who protects instead causing destruction cannot be lost on us. In today’s reading, Phinehas, a priest, shows courage and does the exact opposite of Terry Barton, the forest service worker. Where she failed at her duty, Phinehas rose to the challenge to protect the worship of His God.

Be sure to see how skilled Moses is at composing this story for he tells this incident at Peor so that it mirrors the people’s sin at Sinai. In fact, it is obvious Moses wants us to compare the two incidents and see a pattern.

  • At both Sinai and Peor, the people worshipped false gods. At Sinai, the people worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32) but at Peor, the people worship false god, called Baal (25:1-2).
  • At both places, the fierce anger of God called for drastic action and those guilty of breaking the first commandment (Exodus 20:3) were put to death (Compare Exodus 32:26-28 to Numbers 25:7-8).
  • The tribe of Levi was set aside to especially serve God after the golden calf debacle (Exodus 32:29) while Phinehas is promised his descendants will always be priests (25:11-13).

God is Here – Exodus 38-40

Read Exodus 38-40

The Book of Exodus closes in a beautiful affirmation of God’s promise fulfilled. When the tabernacle was completed, the glory of the Lord filled the whole place. Don’t lose focus on how important God’s presence really is for this is what Adam and Eve lost at the Garden of Eden. The first couple had the opportunity to be with God Himself until they rebelled. And here again, God descended to be with His people.

It is here in the last event of Exodus, we see a similar pattern: God instructs Moses on how to set up the tabernacle (Exodus 40:1-16) and Moses leads the people to do just what God has said (Exodus 40:17-33). And then God Himself descends. Here is the same God and His glory that came down at Mount Sinai earlier. The cloud of the Lord by day, and the fire by night were still God’s Presence in the sight of all the house of Israel. Because Moses and the people were obedient to God by worshipping in the right way and being led by qualified priests, the people enjoyed the very presence of God.

The Value of Rest – Exodus 35-37

Read Exodus 35-37

Exodus tells us of three defining moments for the nation of Israel: 1) God miraculously delivers His people; 2) God’s presence is with Israel and no other nation enjoys this distinction; 3) God gives the nation His own Law and establishes a covenant with Israel alone.

Inside God’s Law for His people, He makes to sure He tells them to rest. While the instructions for the Sabbath had been delivered earlier (Exodus 20:8-11), God repeats these valuable words.

The word Sabbath literally means, “stopping.” Instead of calling it a “Sabbath” day, you could call it a “stop-working” day. We remember to take one day off in seven in order to to keep the day holy. The word “holy” has to do with belonging to God. You can make your cell phone holy if you use your phone for the special purpose of God. You can make this day holy by setting it aside for God alone. God gives us this day as a blessing rather than a burden. It is a day for showing mercy and a day for doing good. It should not be governed rigidly by narrow definitions of what is work and what is not. But neither is it a day to focus on sports and gardening. Instead, it is a day to focus on the Lord.

Here are two practical suggestions for you:

1) Set Aside Time for God’s Word. Take approximately thirty minutes and have a plan on reading the Bible. You should include time to memorize some Bible passages. Aim for word for word memory. A good place to start is the Roman Road (go ahead and Google it).

2) Set Aside Time to Show Mercy to Others. This is a great time to remember the poor. This was exactly Jesus’ point in Matthew: “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12). Too often churches operate as a restaurant – hungry people wait to be fed by a select group of waiters. Instead, our church should operate as an anthill – every member has a task of mercy to do.