Lessons on Leadership from Nehemiah
I find today’s chapter humorous. Balaam arrives before Balak, and Balak wants Balam to pronounce a curse on Israel. So Balaam has Balak prepare the offerings, and then goes to hear a word from the Lord. When he returns he blesses Israel instead of cursing them. Of course Balak is upset (v. 11). He’s blessing the enemy, not cursing them. Balak then takes Balaam to another location to try again, but the Lord’s words are the same – blessings not curses (v. 18-24). Does this stop Balak? Nope. Let’s try one more time. Let’s try one more location – as if the location has to do with the curse (v. 27). Despite all his efforts, what Balak intended for evil, God turned into good. What started as an attempt to curse ended with blessings.
Balaam had the right attitude in this chapter. “Must I not be careful to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” (v. 12). In other words, “if I speak on behalf of God, I’m going to be careful to say exactly what God says -not to add any of my words, or take out anything He said.” He had told Balak before, “The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak” (Num. 22:38). That should have been enough for Balak. God has spoken.
But isn’t that what’s interesting – God has spoken and Balak’s response? Let’s get a second opinion. Let’s try again. Well they did, and when God spoke the 2nd time, and the 3rd time, His answer had not changed. Isn’t this the challenge of today? God has spoken, but I don’t like it. I don’t like what He says about morals, about purity, about marriage and divorce, about worship, about holy living. So what do we do? We can either bend our will and submit to God’s words, or we can be like Balak and seek a second opinion. That sounds a lot like 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
So here’s a question for you to consider today: what do I do when I don’t like what I’ve read/heard from the word of God? You might start with the tough/honest question: “why?” Why don’t I like it? Is it because I’m struggling with this? Is it because it doesn’t line up with what I’ve been taught/believe? Is it because I know I’ll have to make some changes in my life?
The word of God that is described as sweet as honey (Ps. 19:10), is also called a sharp two-edged sword that pierces/penetrates, and is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Have you ever been pierced? Stepped on a piece of glass? Been poked by a thorn? It hurts. Being judged hurts. That’s a good hurt. It’s a good pain. We’re seeing who it is we are compared to who it is we ought to be – looking to the true standard of God’s word.
So many want to use the Bible like a butter knife and smooth everything over - everything is fine. God said it is a sharp sword, meant to pierce, penetrate the soul. It is the surgical blade of the Spirit used to cut away all the sinful cancers of the heart.
Don’t be like Balak. Don’t change God’s words. Don’t seek a second opinion. Let the Bible say what it says – and listen. If it hurts, let it. That hurt might produce a change in your life. It might be what brings you closer to Jesus.
Wise and all understanding God, today I thank You for Your words. What a gift they are. Through Your words we come to know You. Through Your words we see ourselves as we really are. We see Your love, Your will, and Your purpose and plan for us. They are sweet like honey, able to encourage our spirit, and comfort the brokenhearted. They are a like a lamp in a dark world, showing us truth – real truth – and guiding us to You. They are like a sword – they pierce the soul, they judge the heart, they convict the guilty. When I open Your words, help me to listen. Help me to apply what I’ve read to my life, and to obey what You’ve commanded. Soften my heart to receive correction, to be ready for instruction. Help me to better know You, and be like You, through my time spent in Your holy words.
Balak send for Balaam. He wants Balaam to curse the people of God. Balaam just had to have his way (Numbers 22). There are many sad stories in the Bible, especially in Numbers. This is certainly among the saddest.
Balaam was bound and determined to get his way. He thought he had until God prevented him from cursing Israel. When cursing Israel did not work he lead her to idolatry and sexually immorality.
What is sad, and humorous at the same time, in this story is that Balaam’s donkey knew more than he did. Even more amazing is the donkey talks to Balaam (Numbers 22:28-30). A person has to reach a really low point in life for God to use a beast of burden to communicate His mind. The donkey noticed the Angel of the Lord but Balaam did not. At last the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he admits his sin. Balaam is remembered for his greed and prideful heart.
However, God would use Balaam to reveal great truths about Israel. First, God had blessed the people of Israel and He would not allow them to be cursed. Second, blessed by God the nation had been set apart. Third, was the emphasis on the size of the camp (Numbers 22:41).
As long as Israel walked with God and obeyed His will they were undefeated. The battles we fight today are not with flesh and blood but heavenly hosts (Eph. 6:16). Just as with Israel of as old, even so, with spiritual Israel today, as long as we walk with God and obey His will He will not allow us to be defeated.
Pride and greed are effective tools in the arsenal of Satan. Our protection is the whole armor of God. Chief among our weapons is the sword which is the word of God. And then finally prayer. Nothing Satan offers us is worth the price we will pay. Balaam learned that the hard. He too, lives in infamy throughout the Bible story.
This chapter provides what might be the brightest moments in this entire book. Israel completed three successful military campaigns: the Canaanite king (v. 1-3), the Amorite king Sihon (v. 21-32), and Og king of Bashan (v. 33-35). Three great victories all found in this chapter. Yet, when we read Numbers 21 we don’t remember Israel’s victory, we remember their defeat. In the midst of these victories we find another occasion of Israel grumbling over the lack of water and good food, and God sends “fiery serpents” to punish them.
The serpent scene is interesting. The people rebel against God and Moses with their tongues, and God sends a judgment through serpents. But it’s here we see something Israel does that’s remarkable – they confess they’ve sinned (v. 7). Then it is Moses, who they complained against, who intercedes for them, and God, who they turned against, who provides the cure. Moses built the bronze serpent and whoever was bit yet looked to that bronze serpent lived. What a type for Christ! (John 3:14-17)
There are so many thoughts to pull from this chapter. I’m sure you’ll glean much through reading and reflecting over it. Here’s what I took from Numbers 21: what a shame that the great victories Israel won through the strength of the Lord are overshadowed by their sin. It’s a reminder to us that it can take years to complete works, to build trust, to sustain a positive influence and reputation, but all of it can come crashing to the ground in an instant through sin. Sin ruins and destroys. We need to realize this – one moment of darkness can harm, destroy, and certainly overshadow years of hard work for light.
But there’s hope – just as there was for Israel. God provided Israel with their humble, compassionate leader Moses (who had interceded on their behalf numerous times by now). And after the serpents, God provided Israel with 2 more victories. And even with the serpents, God provided their healing – the bronze serpent. For those who had been bit, God gave a second chance.
Some of you may be feeling like this today – caught up in a series of wrongs – whatever good you’ve done seems overshadowed by the sin you’ve committed. You’re bit by the bitter sting of sin. Remember – God provides. And for you He has provided a Savior. Look to Jesus. See His example. See His grace. Rejoice in His love. Follow His words. Don’t give up on God – He’s not given up on you.
Here’s a simple reminder for you today: God has victory in mind for you. But that victory is only found in Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). Fix your eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Don’t let the failures and sins of yesterday distract you from a better today, and a brighter tomorrow. Rise with Jesus – look to Jesus – and be victorious in Jesus.
Our victorious King, this day we pray to You realizing how sweet and powerful those words are: “Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In You we do have victory – victory over sin – victory over our past – victory over Satan – victory over the grave. All this is possible through You – the Son of Man lifted up for the sins of the world. Thank You for providing for us what we need. Father, You gave Israel the bronze serpent. You’ve given us something far more precious – You’ve given us Your Son. How deep is Your love, how great is Your grace! Please forgive us of our sin. Help us to see hope when it seems there’s none – help us to see light when all we see is darkness – help us Father, to see victory before us, when all we see is defeat behind us. Help us to rise when we’ve fallen, to learn and change, and become more like Jesus than we were before. We long for Heaven – we long to be reunited with our loved ones who have fought the good fight and finished the course – we long to see our Jesus, and to sing and shout the victory! Lead us Home Father. Lead us on to victory!
The death of Miriam affected Moses and Aaron deeply (Number 20). It was Miriam whom God chose to save Moses’ life. She led the praises following their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 15). The only blemish on her life was when criticized Moses (Number 12).
With that burden, Moses must still deal with the whining and complaining of Israel. Again and Again they cry, “Why have you made us come out of Egypt, to bring us to this place?” Now there is no water and they begin their complaining once again (Numbers 16:1–40).
God appears to Moses and Aaron. He tells Moses to speak to the rock instead Moses strikes the rock. As a result of this one blemish on his life God said, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
Further, Moses faces another disappointment, the death of Aaron. Aaron had been by his side from the beginning, when he first appeared before Pharaoh. The one blemish on his life was the event at Sinai concerning the golden calf.
Moses had to be weary from the complaining of the people. But the deaths of his two siblings had to really drain him. Further, his one blemish of striking the rock instead of speaking to the rock must have been devastating to him.
Haven’t we all in one way or the other been in the shoes of Moses? Disappointment and fatigue weaken us so that we do something in weakness we would never have done in strength. But, do not miss the mercy of God as well. In spite of the charge, “You believed me not…” God enabled Moses to see the Promised Land. He also is listed as one of the great people of faith in God’s book (Hebrews 11). One blemish on our lives does not have to destroy us. God will be merciful to us too.
Chapter 19 takes us back to the issue of defilement and the need for purity. Though Israel was to avoid contamination, it was inevitable. The 2nd half of this chapter explains how one became impure through contact with the dead (v. 11-22). God’s punishment for Israel’s rebellion in not entering the promised land was that everyone 20 and older would die (Num. 14:29), as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. With a nation populated over two million people, it was likely that hundreds died daily. This chapter provides the solution for their defilement.
This chapter began giving the solution first (v. 1-10). They were to take a red heifer with no defect, and upon which no yoke had been placed, kill it, burn it, and use it’s ashes to remove the impurity.
Something I found interesting was v. 7-10 – the priest and those who came to serve this cleansing ritual both became unclean due to their exposure to the dead heifer, and were required to wash their clothes, bathe their bodies, and would remain unclean until evening. There’s an old rabbinic saying that fits this context: “They purify the defiled and defile the pure.” While there’s certainly several lessons to draw from this, the one that stuck out the most to me was the sacrifice of the priest. He gave up his own purity/cleanliness in order to purify a people who became defiled. Not only did he perform a ritual to bring about their purity, but he then had to follow up with a ritual for his own impurity. That’s dedication. That’s compassion.
That’s Jesus. For the sake of a people so defiled by sin, Jesus acted with compassion. Jesus took on flesh – for you. Jesus lived 30+ years as a man – for you. Jesus underwent temptation in a wilderness for 40 days – for you. Jesus lived a perfect life in obedience to God, leaving a perfect example – for you. Jesus wept in the garden – for you. Jesus’ sweat became drops of blood – for you. Jesus was slandered – for you. Jesus was abused – for you. Jesus was scourged, whipped, torn open – for you. Jesus wore a crown of thorns – for you. Jesus carried a cross to Calvary – for you. Jesus was nailed to that cross – for you. Jesus stayed on that cross – for you.
Yes, Jesus died for the whole world. But He died for you. Listen to the words Jesus spoke during the Lord’s Supper: “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). He gave His life for me. He bore my sins for my sake. As Paul would say, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Great Savior divine, I pray to You this 1st day of the week, the day You rose from the dead, You conquered Satan and death, You claimed the victory! In this prayer on this day I praise You. You are so loving and caring. You came to earth for me. You suffered and died for me. You took my sins upon the cross. You are such an incredible, merciful, loving Savior. I don’t deserve what You’ve done, the gift You’ve given. Thank You just doesn’t seem like enough. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that would be a present far too small. Merciful Lord You are beautiful, clothed in glory. You are perfect. You are victorious. Today I sing Your victory. I praise the God who formed and completed the wondrous redemptive plan. Thank You for Your love, Your sacrifice, for the forgiveness I have in You. All that I am and may be is by Your amazing grace. You are worthy of all honor, of all praise, because You purchased us with Your blood. What precious blood! What a wonderful gift! What an incredible Savior You are!