Numbers 9:1-23

Honoring God


 

Have you ever been to the point in your life where you needed some help in finding your way to an intended destination?  The way we seek counsel as we journey through the events of our lives exposes much of our personality and character.   It is almost a standing joke that men tend to refuse to ask for directions when they do not know their way to an intended destination.  Of course, such a stereotype is unfair and incorrect.  Still the stereotype remains.  We all frequently prefer to be the driver, the one in charge of our journey, and can be hesitant or even resistant to what we might consider surrendering to the authority of another.

 

So, what do we do when we are at a point in our experience where we simply do not know where to turn?  We may look to the future and see a road that branches in many different directions, and we are unsure of which road to take.  We might look into the future and see a road that seems to be a ďdead end.Ē  Perhaps we feel as though the energy that we need to progress down the road of life has been taken from us and we simply cannot take another step.

 

We live in a world where sin reigns in the hearts and minds of most of its citizens.  The impact of sin touches us on every side as we are immersed in a world that is driven by greed, pride, lust, etc.  The variety and effect of sin that we observe in this world is virtually unending.  As we find ourselves buffeted by the expression of the sin of others, as well as the sin that we ourselves embrace, we suffer consequences in many different ways.  Often that consequence is to find ourselves needing a way out of our circumstances, a way that will restore the peace and joy that comes with the knowledge of our salvation from that sin that so vexes us.

 

God has provided a plan and a direction for us.  Through the Holy Spirit, God has provided the power to overcome the sinful nature of this world, and by honoring Him, we can appropriate that power, and find Godís plan and direction.  We find many illustrations of Godís plan and direction in the scriptures, and examples that come from Jewish history are particularly illustrative.

 

During the days of Joseph, the ancient Israelites found a home in northern Egypt following a famine shortly after Abraham settled the family in Canaan.  The family of Abraham spent nearly 400 years in Egypt, first establishing themselves as respected farmers, given choice delta land by the Pharaoh, himself.  However, over the years the Israelites grew in number, and found themselves persecuted by the Egyptians who became fearful of their growing power.  They became treated as slaves, in national bondage to the Pharaoh himself.  As the situation for Israel became more and more desperate, they cried out to the LORD for help.  We are all familiar with the story of the Exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt when Moses followed the LORDís command and direction as he led them to their freedom.

 

That freedom came at a great cost to the nation that held them.  The last of the ten plagues that the LORD brought upon the Pharaohís people in response to their refusal to obey took place when Godís ďAngel of DeathĒ passed through the nation and put to death the first-born of every family, both man and beast.  Those families in the nation of Israel who obeyed Godís command to place the blood of a sacrificed lamb on their doorpost were ďpassed overĒ by the Angel of Death on that terrible night when so many died.

 

Numbers 9:1.  And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,

 

Much has happened in the Israeli experience in the year since the Passover of the Angel of Death.  Virtually all who have learned any Biblical history have heard of the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea on a dry strip of land that reverted to its watery depths when Pharaohsí army followed them.  They then travelled on to the foot of Mount Sinai where they camped while Moses went up onto the mountain and received the tablets of the Ten Commandments from the LORD.  When Moses presented the tablets, the nation established a commitment to obey the LORD.  This verse reveals that they had been encamped at Sinai through the new year when the LORD spoke to Moses concerning the journey they were about to take as the LORD would lead them.

 

Numbers 9:2-4.  Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season.

 

Prior to their leaving of Mount Sinai, God gave the people some very specific directions that would serve to preserve them as a nation, and to give them the opportunity to be a nation of faith.  The events that surrounded the tenth plague in Egypt was vivid in the minds of the Israelites, how the LORD gave them instruction for preparing and partaking of a specially prepared meal that ended with the placement of the sacrificed lambís blood on their doorposts.  This event was known as the ďPassoverĒ simply because the Angel of Death passed over those families that were obedient to the LORDís command.  Consequently, the meal they shared that night was known as the Passover meal. 

 

In preparing the nation for its future, one of the first commands was to repeat the celebration of the Passover meal at an appointed time each year.  What was the LORDís purpose in establishing this tradition among the people of Israel?

 

        The annual celebration would remind the people of Godís power and purpose of deliverance.

        The annual celebration would serve to repeat the act of obedience that protects them from destruction at the hands of the sin of this world.

        The annual celebration would serve to reinforce their faith in God.

 

Consequently, there is a threefold purpose.  The Israelites were saved from destruction because of their faithful obedience to the LORD, and their continued faith in God would serve to keep them safe.

 

Numbers 9:3-4.  In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it. 4And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, that they should keep the passover.

 

HONORING GOD IN WORSHIP

 

God gave the details of the ordinance of the Passover to Moses at the beginning of the first month of the year, the month of Abib, later referred to as Nisan.  The beginning of the year was held in the spring, consistent with other ancient near-eastern cultures.  The celebration was to take place during the twilight of the day, that period between sunset and complete darkness.  According to Jewish tradition, the point of twilight was attained when the sunlight had diminished to the point that one could not discern between a white thread and a black thread held at arms length.

 

The idea is simple:  at the beginning of each year the people would honor God through an ordinance of worship, an ordinance that would remind them of His relationship with them and the benefits of that relationship.  If one truly loves the LORD they will embrace such an opportunity to worship as they seek to honor Him in a special way.

 

The LORD made it clear that the celebration was to be kept with a great deal of attention to detail.  There are several ways to approach such a detailed ordinance, and that approach reveals much about how one relates to the LORD.

 

First, one can receive the commands with excitement and gratitude that come from true faith.  Obedience is easier to attain when one knows what is expected.  I taught university classes for over 30 years, and started virtually every semesterís activities with a detailed list of my expectations.  Knowing these, the students did not have to wonder what they needed to do to be successful in my classes.  Most students appreciated this detail and candor, and employed the information in their matriculation, making their success in the classroom more attainable.  By giving the Israelites a detailed description of the Passover celebration, they would be able to enjoy the celebration without fear of celebrating inappropriately.  Motivated by faith and celebrated in love, the Passover can serve its three-fold purpose effectively in the lives of those who take part. 

 

A second way to receive commands is to perceive them as a list of arbitrary, meaningless, and purposeless rules.  A few of my students were very intimidated when I presented my expectations for the course, viewing my approach as inflexible, demanding, and autocratic.  They entirely misunderstood the intent, motivation, and purpose behind my presentation.  Some will receive the commands of God in the same manner, considering them to be a burden, and come to despise the authority that requires them.

 

Finally, a third way to respond to these instructions is to receive them as simply a list of rules without any consideration of their purpose or context.  When this happens, people fall into a pattern of legalism, where the rules become their authority rather than the LORD.  For these adherence to a well-defined set of rules becomes a badge of pride and enables practitioners of those rules to despise those who they consider less obedient to those rules.   Ultimately, Israel followed this pattern of behavior when faith in God was replaced by religious legalism. 

 

It is evident that the Israelites originally responded with excitement and anticipation to the LORDĒs command to celebrate the Passover.

 

Numbers 9:5.  And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.

 

This command established the annual celebration of the Jewish Passover which is still celebrated today.  Many Jews celebrate the Passover meal in a manner that is very similar in context and content to the ancient order.   Though it they honor God, remember the Exodus, and look forward to the coming Messiah, even reserving a seat for Elijah at the table.

 

Though Christians do not celebrate all of the tenets of the Jewish Passover, the Passover does play an important part in the Christian experience.  Christians understand the Passover details to be a prophesy of the coming Messiah, details that clearly point to Jesus Christ and His purpose of redemption that took place on the Cross of Calvary.  Two of the components of the Passover meal are retained in the regular celebration of the LORDís Supper, an ordinance that still retains much of the purpose of the original celebration. The Passover reminded the Jews of Godís purpose of redemption from bondage to the Pharaoh of Egypt, the LORDís Supper serves as a reminder of Godís purpose of redemption from the consequences of sin and its bondage to the evil one.

 

HONORING GOD IN THE HEART.

 

Numbers 9:6-7.  And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the Passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day: 7And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel?

 

Much of Jewish tradition and law was already established by the time that the Jews were to leave Sinai for the journey to the Promised Land of Canaan.  They had a clear understanding of the nature of sin. God had revealed to them that their sin stands between them and the purity of His Holiness.  As an illustration of the necessity of holiness, God established for them a system of sacrifices that would atone for unintentional sin, illustrating in the process of atonement the necessity for oneís cleanliness in His presence, and for the need for forgiveness for purposeful sin, a form of forgiveness that only He could give, a form that the Messiah gave for all people of faith.

 

Those who sincerely love the LORD desire to come to Him in a spirit of cleanliness and holiness as we approach His holiness.  The Jewish system of traditions and laws demanded that one be clean before they could approach the LORD in worship.  There were several circumstances that would render an individual ďunclean,Ē restricting them from worship until they were cleansed through any of several forms of atoning sacrifice.  The illustration given here is the doctrine that one would become unclean if they touched or came close to a human corpse.  There were many other circumstances that would also make one unclean and unable to participate in worship.

 

Since the command for the Passover was extended to all Israel, this presented a problem for those who were deemed ritually unclean because of some current circumstance in their lives.  They desired to take part in the celebration, simply because their desire to honor God was sincere. 

 

I am always disappointed when I observe Christians whose desire to honor the LORD in worship has diminished to the point that they celebrate occasions to abstain from worship.  Many people attend corporate worship only when there is nothing else vying for their time.  A golf date, a televised sports event, or any number of other forms of personal entertainment often keep people away from worship services.  I have been a part of fellowships where the leadership would cancel worship services and then be very happy to be able to stay home. 

 

Some may attend worship services, but watch their time pieces rather than the Holy Spirit, seeking to get out ďon timeĒ without regard to anything other than their personal schedule.  The events of their daily routine are more important than spending time in sincere worship of the LORD in fellowship with others.  It is these who evaluate the services, judging the music, the sermon, the people, and every other event they see around them, missing the opportunity to take their eyes off of each other and focus fully on God.  In these examples we see people who fully fail to honor God in worship because theirs is not a worship that comes from the heart.

 

We can observe a quite opposite attitude in these Jewish men who demonstrate a sincere desire to participate in worship even though there is a barrier standing in their way.  Rather than using their state of uncleanness as a means to avoid worship, they desire to find a way to participate in a way that honors God.

 

Numbers 9:8.  And Moses said unto them, Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you.

 

Mosesí response to their question is instructive.  We often expect our leadership to provide instant answers, and when pressured to do so, we often make unwise choices.  Often we will attempt to solve problems ourselves and offer an immediate solution.  Moses recognized the importance of their question and his lack of authority to form new Jewish Law.  This also illustrates how Jewish law was formed, not from edicts from Moses, but rather through Godís revelation to Moses.  Through Moses, God was able to communicate His purpose of grace in a set of practical and metaphoric instructions that would give people an opportunity for obedience, and at the same time provide prophetic illustrations of Godís intent for His people.  Consequently, Moses was not able to answer the question that the men posed, but He did know that God would reveal to him an appropriate solution.

 

Mosesí confidence in the LORD is evident when he simply told the men to ďstand stillĒ while he inquired of the LORD in prayer.  Certainly this form of communication with the LORD necessitates a close relationship with Him and the ability to discern the voice of God as He speaks through the Holy Spirit into his heart. 

 

Moses sincerely desired to find the truth concerning Godís desire for those who wish to participate, but find themselves prohibited from taking part in a commanded celebration by the Jewish laws concerning cleanliness and purity.  This is an illustration of how we all find ourselves when we approach the LORD.  We are all made impure by our sin, and without Godís intervention we have no hope of a future with Him.

 

Numbers 9:9-12.  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 10Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto the LORD. 11The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it.

 

HONORING GOD IS NOT AN OPTION FOR HIS CHILDREN

 

When Moses went to the LORD in prayer, he found Godís answer:  impurity, or any other restriction, does not absolve one of honoring God.  Though the question that was asked by the men was specific, the LORDís instruction was general in nature.  ďPosterity refers to the generations that would follow these who asked, establishing this instruction as Jewish law.  The answer speaks to more occasions that result in a state of uncleanness.  There were many circumstances in ancient Jewish culture that would make one unclean, and thus ineligible to enter the temple or take part in the Jewish celebrations.  The state of uncleanness was simply a type for sin, so that we can come to understand that God is a Holy God, and He does not allow those who are stained by the consequence of sin to approach Him in fellowship.

 

However, unlike the sin that, when unforgiven leaves a person separated from fellowship with God, a person who was deemed ritually unclean remained in that state for a relatively short period of time, after which a sacrifice would be required to allow the individual to re-enter Godís presence.  This is likewise a type for Godís plan of forgiveness, that the consequence of sin, which is death, would have power for only a short time for those who place their trust in Him.  The end of uncleanness for a person of faith comes with Godís forgiveness that accompanies their sincere profession of faith.  The sacrifice that allows one who is forgiven to enter Godís presence was paid by the LORD YAHWEH Himself when He went to the cross as the final vicarious sacrifice, the Lamb of God, typed by the sacrificed Lamb of the Passover.

 

To illustrate the temporal nature of forgiven sin, God simply provided a second date when those who were not able to take part in the Passover could do soÖ one month later.  God asks all to come to Him, but reminds us through many teachings of His Holiness and our need for forgiveness.  But God is faithful to forgive those who come to Him, and once God has developed a relationship with us, our praise and adoration of Him is not an option.  If our faith is real, there is no need for any command to worship Him, for worship is spontaneous and from the heart when one really understands the marvelous gift of grace that God has given to us.

 

Numbers 9:13.  But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.

 

There are many who say they ďbelieveĒ in God.  Satan believes in God.  But without faith in God as LORD, there is no salvation.  Many claim to be Christians but because of their unsaved condition have no interest in spiritual truth, and certainly have no interest in taking part in the worship of God.  They may even be members of churches, and occasionally attend church-wide events because there may find the spirit of love that may be found there to be attractive. 

 

However, sin has a consequence: death.  The word, death, refers to separation.  God declared through Moses that those who refuse to honor Him in worship are to be cut off from the population.  Such a practice would assure that the fellowship of faith is, indeed, populated by those who love the LORD.  Many churches today require its members to state some from of a profession of faith before their membership is accepted.  This practice serves a purpose similar to that stated in Numbers 9:13. 

 

Also, note the one who is held responsible when one refuses to worship God.  Each person is responsible for his/her own choices.  Acceptance by God is not some cosmic, eternal decision.  It is the simple choice of the individual to honor God in the heart and mind.  Honoring God is an activity that comes from oneís own heart.  We cannot honor God through the substitutionary worship of another person.  A priest cannot worship for us.  The sincere faith of a parent cannot serve to form the bridge of relationship between the LORD and their lost children.  Each person is to come to God, and turn to Him in faith by their own choice.

 

Numbers 9:14.  And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.

 

Godís plan for Israel was that they would be a nation of priests, people of faith who would declare Him to the nations.  Consequently, His instruction always declared that faith was open to all people, both Jew and non-Jew.  Arrogance is one of the most pervasive of the sins of man, and the Jews employed a religious arrogance that led them to accept the non-Jew with great difficulty.  However, even here, God makes it clear that all people are to be free to worship Him, and the Jews are to make special provision for the stranger to be able to worship.

 

Many people of faith today act as though they think that they have some form of special relationship with God, and that all others are of a lesser religious stature.  Actually, the opposite is true.  God resists the proud and blesses the humble.  The scriptures speak against the sin of pride more than one hundred times, and as we observe the consequences of the expression of this sin it is relatively obvious why God opposes it so.

All who come to the LORD in faith are called to honor and worship Him.

 

THE BENEFIT OF HONORING GOD

 

Numbers 9:15-17.  And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. 16So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. 17And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.

 

The Israelites were led out of their Egyptian captivity by the presence of God in the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.  Referred to in Jewish tradition as the Shekinah Glory of God, the pillar had not left the presence of the Jews during their Journey.  When God commanded them to build a tabernacle, the tent of testimony, the cloud moved over it and remained there.  God would provide the people with safety, security and protection as long as they were faithful to Him, a promise that God still holds to today.  The pillar of fire served as a vivid reminder of His continual presence.

 

The return to Canaan, left behind by Joseph and his brothers almost 400 years prior, would be difficult and dangerous.  It was also to be a time of instruction when God would teach the nation many lessons about His character and about the necessity of faith.  It would also be a time of cleansing when those who refused to follow Him would be allowed to die in the desert and never see the Promised Land. 

 

The command to follow the cloud is another type, another metaphor that instructs us on the nature of obedience to God.  The pillar represented to the Israelites Godís presence amongst them.  That presence through the pillar would remain for nearly 1200 years until Judah would be overrun by Babylon and the nation of Israel would be taken from the Promised Land.  God promises to provide security and direction for all who place their faith and trust in Him.  Though our journey, like that of the Israelites, may be filled with danger, toil, and trouble, God is always with us, provides for all of our needs, and is there to empower us when we rely on Him. 

 

Numbers 9:18-20.  At the commandment of the LORD the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the LORD they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents. 19And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD, and journeyed not. 20And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the LORD they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the LORD they journeyed.

 

God is always true to His promises.  Following the pillar of fire was more than an act of obedience.  Through their obedience God was able to bless them.  Had they chosen to ignore the command to move, turning their back on Godís presence, many would have died in the desert, or returned to the land of bondage they had known.  Likewise, those who turn their back on God today will die in their lost state as they return to this sin-sick world and the prince of death who reigns in it. 

 

By following the pillar of fire and cloud, the people kept themselves in Godís hand of protection.  While they stayed together as a nation, surrounding the tent of testimony, God fed them, often miraculously, and protected them from their enemies.  The Old Testament book of Numbers reveals in a later census (which actually occurs in the first chapter of the book) that the nation could have numbered as many as two million people, since they were able to count an army of over 600,000 men.[1]

 

God still provides for his children today.  God still seeks out the hearts of people who will turn to him in faith and obedience, a faith that spontaneously loves Him and worships Him.  The Passover meal was instituted by God to give those who had faith in Him a means to celebrate Him and Honor Him in a way that would reveal both His character and His purpose.  The Passover meal and the LORDís Supper ordinances still retain the same purpose today.  Likewise, obedience to the LORD is characterized by our spontaneous love and worship of Him and participation in both private and corporate worship as we Honor God in a manner that would please Him.

 

God is worthy of all of our honor and praise.  Let us not let the distractions of this sinful world to turn us away from the honor and obligation we have to worship Him.

 


[1] If we hold the book of Numbers to the mathematical scrutiny of todayís scientific culture, we might come away from a study of the book with some confusion.  The ancients were many centuries removed from the developments of science and mathematics that have built our modern culture.  The world view of the ancients lacked the mathematic culture we have today, and numbers tended to be used in far more abstract ways.  Numbers were sometimes inflated with the intent of bringing glory to God.  Numbers were often used symbolically to present a dual message.  Consequently, it is not a good idea to try to form arithmetic conclusions from Old Testament writings.