Only a Holy God

Only a Holy God

Before we do that, let’s go to him in prayer.

Father, we come before your throne and before your word, a distracted people. We are distracted by many things, the busyness of the week that has passed and all that we feel we have left undone. We’re distracted by the events of the week to come, things we anticipate and perhaps things we dread. And many of us are distracted by the events of the week to come, things we anticipate and perhaps things we dread. Many of us are distracted ust at the struggle that our pastor, Lloyd and Laura, are having now, just waiting to see what’s happening in their lives. Father, you love them, we love them, and they’re in your hands. Father, I pray that as we come to your word this morning, you would give us eyes to see, and you would give us ears to hear what you would have to say in our lives. Father, you would ready us for your word, and we would see Jesus. Father, this is what we pray in His name, Amen.

We are continuing our series through Numbers. We came down a little closer as Lloyd took us through two chapters. And I’m taking the plane back up to about 30,000 feet as we’re looking at three chapters or parts of three chapters this morning. So just a sampling from each of those chapters. I had thought about instead of preaching, just reading all three chapters, thus sayeth the Lord. But I thought maybe my pay would be docked or something. Just kidding. This is the word of God. On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, the chiefs of Israel, the heads of their father’s household, who were chiefs of the tribes, who were over all who were listed, approached and brought their offering before the Lord. Chapter 8, Now the Lord spoke to Moses saying, speak to Aaron and say to him, when you set up the lamps, those seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand. And Aaron did so. He set up its lamps in front of the lampstand as the Lord commanded Moses. This, and this is the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold. From its base to its flowers, it was hammered work.

According to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Take the Leites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall separate the Leites from among the people of Israel, and the Leites shall be mine. And after that, the Leites shall go in and serve at the tent of meeting when you have cleansed them and offered them as a waive offering. For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel, instead of all who opened the womb, the first born of all the people of Israel. I have taken them for myself. For all the first born among the people of Israel are mine, both man and beast. On the day that I struck down the first born in the land of Egypt, I consecrated them for myself. And I have taken the Leivites instead of all the first born among the people of Israel. And I have given the Leivites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel to do the service for the people of Israel at the time of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel.

That there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary. And in Chapter 9, When the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the 14th day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time according to all the statutes and all the rules. You shall keep it. The word of the Lord. You may be seated. We pray for the preaching of God’s Word. Father, as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But if my words should stray from yours, may they be quickly forgotten. I pray this in the name and of the power of Jesus Christ, Amen. Well, when Susan and I were first married about 30 years ago, we were showered by friends and family with all sorts of wonderful gifts. Kitchenware, linens, dishes, some general home maintenance tools, and some gifts of cash to fill in the gaps as we attempted to set up our first home.

Now, these gifts serve two functions. One, very practical. They were things we didn’t have and things that we needed. But secondly, these gifts also serve to remind us of both the generosity of our friends and family, as well as our need for them in our lives. I think Chapter 7, in a similar fashion, shows us the same version, a larger version, rather, of the same story. It’s not a single family starting out, but a nation of worshipers, a nation of families. And it’s not a single home to equip, but rather the tabernacle, that portable temple where God’s glory and his presence would be seen and experienced. And here in our text this morning, as we take that high altitude view of these three chapters, we’re going to see that God, in his holiness, requires strict obedience as we approach him in worship. And yet in his grace, he also enables us to worship through his provisions of what we lack or what we are unable to accomplish in ourselves. You may be interested to knowing that the chronological setting for these chapters actually precedes that of the first six chapters. Chapter 7, 8, and 9 actually occur in time before chapters 1 through 6.

We know this simply by comparing Chapter 9 Verse 1 that we read God is speaking to Moses in the first month of the second year with Chapter 1 Verse 1, where we read that God was speaking to Moses in the second month of that second year. Numbers is not always arranged chronologically. At times it is, but at other times, the arrangement is more of a grouping of either social issues or situations or that of spiritual ones. And in our chapters here, that’s the focus. The focus is almost solely on the preparation for that climactic first tabernacle celebration of the Passover. And so God turns his attention to and turns our attention to worship. And more specifically, what God requires in worship. And we see that the people of God respond with generous anticipation, or they’re generous in their anticipation of celebrating the Passover. The first example of generosity is seen in the provision of oxen and carts for the Leavites. That occurs in verses, I think, 4 and following in Chapter 7 for a little bit. That’s a free will offering. It doesn’t seem to have been prescribed. There’s no state here or there’s no statement where the Lord asked them to give this gift.

It seems to be a free will offering. And it’s a gift to meet a specific need, the transportation of all that is required in setting up the tabernacle with its heavy draperies, its curtains, its poles, its fittings. It seems that the gift is a little bit unscripted because which by the way is a dramatic contrast to the rest of the gifts that Chapter 7 speaks about, which are exactly stated. We have Moses pausing, or at least God immediately speaking into Moses’ life in Chapter or Verse 5 of Chapter 7, where he tells Moses he’s allowed to accept these gifts and then use them and give them back to each man according to his service. The translation transportation of everything in the tabernacle was divided among three families of the Leivites. There was the Gershwin family who was charged with transporting much of the curtains, and to them, they were given two wagons. There was the Murari family, to them was given the role to transport all the poles, all the fittings, and all of the rest of the draperies and curtains. And to them were given four wagons. And finally, the kohath family, they were charged with carrying all of the heavy altars and lavers and other furniture items, and they received none.

And verse 9 explains why. It says, Because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder. It’s interesting to note that a simple equal distribution of the wagons to each of the three families would have jeopardized the entire nation of Israel, causing the Leavites to sin and receiving that penalty in the whole nation. Indeed, in later years, we actually learn in 2 Samuel 6, verse 6, under the leadership of King David, his priests had forgotten the directives to carry the holy things on their shoulders or with poles, as in the case of the Ark of the Covenant, and it cost Uzzah his life. Reflecting on that Old Testament scholar, Ian Dugald, he remarks, We need to be careful. Our proposed gifts are kosher ways of meeting needs. Do good, he uses the word kosher to mean fitting or proper. Our gifts, when we give gifts to someone, it should meet a real need and not serve as either a stumbling block which wagons to the kohath family would have been, or a distraction to whomever we’re giving the gift to. Additionally, you’ll note when the tribal leaders, when the chiefs gave these wagons to Moses, they gave him with no strings attached.

They trusted him and allowed him to distribute the gifts as he saw the real needs. It was a generous free will gift to practically help the people of Israel. The Leivites move all of the heavy things in the tavernacle. Chapter 7 continues with even more gift giving. Some of the scholars on this chapter came up with the partridge and the pair tree effect, except in the 12 days of Christmas, the gift changed. But here it’s exactly the same gift day after day. There’s an exact description of the gift, and it’s listed 12 times, which makes this actually one of the longest chapters in the Old Testament. Psalm 119 is longer, but not many others are. If you have your Bible open, if you’re looking at Chapter 7 of numbers, I’m going to read through one of those descriptions, verses 12 to 17. It reads like this. He who offered his offering the first day was Neshan, son of Abinadab, of the tribe of Judah. And his offering was one silver plate whose weight was a hundred and thirty shekels, and one silver basin of 70 shekels according to the shekel of the sanctuary. And both of them were full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering.

One golden dish of ten shekels full of incense. One bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb, a year old for a burnt offering, a male goat for a sin offering, and for the sacrifice of the peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Neshan, the son of Abinadab. I want to make just a couple brief observations here. First, these gifts were costly. The larger silver plates would have weighed about three and a half pounds of pure silver. The smaller ones, close to two pounds of silver. And the golden dish, though lighter, came filled with incense. All of those dishes were filled with either fine flowers mixed with oil or incense. The animals that were brought would have been the choice animal animals in the field. This is an expensive gift. Secondly, the gifts were orderly. One tribe came each day for 12 days, bringing the same gift, allowing the priest to organize and to put them away well. Thirdly, the gifts were perfectly practical, providing both the instruments and the offerings for the priest’s work. And lastly, the gifts are identical. What’s interesting is that because the gifts were the same, the burden of providing them to the priests would be felt in different ways among the tribes.

For instance, Benjamin and Manassah, each tribe, each family had less than half of the population of Judah. So per capita, the gifts from Benjamin, the gifts from Manassah cost more than twice what they would have from the tribe of Judah. But God wanted exactly the same gift from each tribe. Why? Well, to this question, Old Testament scholar R. K. Harrison notes that the repetition of gifts, show that each tribe, regardless of their size, was on equal footing with all the other tribes. It’s too easy for us to play comparative games. It’s even easier because we get to pick who we compare ourselves to. And sometimes we pick folks so that we can feel better about ourselves. And other times we pick folks and we feel worse about ourselves. That is dangerous. But even more dangerous than doing that is when we think that God does that, that God values one person above another, preferring maybe one with more talent, or maybe God would prefer someone with more resources. The letter of James, among many places, makes it quite clear that God shows no partiality, and neither should we. He loves us, each and every one of us.

He places the same value on us. And it is our struggle and our challenge to do likewise. Chapter 7, after it goes through the gifts and speaks to the specific gifts that the Lord requires, that everyone needs to bring the same before the Lord, wraps up. And there’s a final repetition of the gifts in verses 84 to 88. But here we notice the cumulative power of giving. Each tribe, on its own, provides a generous gift. But together, the gifts provide everything the priests need to begin their Ministry. Together, the gifts become an incredible gift to the tabernacle. They’re animals for the burnt offerings, for the guilt, for the sin offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings. The Leivites are ready. And Chapter 7 ends with a book end, reminding the readers that all of these gifts are directed by God. The chapter opens and closes with God speaking to Moses, carefully explaining all that he needs to worship a holy God. The speaking God continues in Chapter 8, instructing Moses to set up the seven lamps and arranging it, not just the specifications of what the lamps should look like from the base to the flower petals of hammered gold, but also how it’s to be set up that it casts its light to the front.

Chapter 8 doesn’t specifically mention what would be in front of it, but we know from other passages that in front would be the table on which the showbread is placed. The lampstand lights up the 12 loaves which represent the 12 tribes of Israel. With that picture in mind, Old Testament scholar Gordon Wendham remarks the quote, light and fire represent a life giving presence and the blessing from God. He notes further that that arrangement would portray God’s intention that the people should live continually in his presence and enjoy those blessings mediated by the priest. We know that God was very careful to keep his presence continually in front of the people. Using fire at night and the cloud by day, they would see his presence. And here the lampstands were to burn continually. One scholar remarked that it might have been really reassuring in the middle of the night to see a glow coming from the tabernacle, God was still there. And the priests served as mediators between God and man. The light was to shine forth God’s presence. And so Aaron gives that great benediction. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and to be gracious to you.

And the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. God had used the priests in the Old Testament to mediate between himself and his people, where at times both blessings and other times curses were pronounced. Light and fire portray that. In Hebrews chapters 8 and 9, we learn that all of the Priestley mediation that occurred in the Old Testament, they have all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The one high priest. And he, Jesus, having accomplished that work as mediator, is seated at the right hand of the Father. But he still intercedes for us. Christ, throughout his earthly ministry, on several occasions used the similar imagery of light. He declares himself the light of the world. He declares that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 9. The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light. And the same Jesus, the light of the world, declares in Matthew 5, verse 14, that you are the light of the world. What’s interesting here is the word you in Matthew 5 is not the singular. It’s you all. It’s you, or if you’re from Pennsylvania, you ands. It’s the plural of you. So it’s not you individually, the light of the world.

It’s you as a part of the church. The church is the light of the world. It’s the city set on a hill. It is the light on a stand. And indeed, the church as a light, as a lamp stand, it flows throughout the New Testament. You see it very clearly in revelation with the seven lamps as the seven churches and the dialog that occurs there. Indeed, that picture is one that flows through. And it’s a picture in which the light shows forth both blessings and curses. Matthew 5, for instance, tells us that we are to let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. But at other times, the world would rather prefer darkness. John 3, for instance, tells us that they, the world, hate the light, let their wicked deeds be exposed. This reality is both an opportunity and a challenge for us at Faith Covenant. We want to be a church that our community would miss if we were gone. A church known for its love for the Flathead Valley, a church that cares for the needy, a church that welcomes any who are struggling, a church that really serves as a refuge for the weary.

But we also want to be a church that some would rather we be silent, a covered light, perhaps even hating us for some of those same positions I’ve mentioned, or that we hold to a biblical sexual ethic, for instance. We should be a church that the community sees as both a blessing and a curse. The challenge is to be bold and gracious, to show to a needy world God’s presence and to be blessing in that presence to those who would worship him, as well as to help the world realize the curse of rejecting him. See, a life lived in worship is a life lived in obedience. It is a life that is set apart for the Lord. And the rest of Chapter 8 details for us the setting apart of the Leivites for the service of the Lord. I really appreciated Pastor Lloyd’s sermon the other week where he reminded us that anyone has the opportunity to take the Nazareth vow. Anybody could, for a time of any tribe, male or female, could take the vow of a Nazareth for a dedicated service to the Lord. But God, for his own good pleasure, takes the Leivites from among the tribes and then further limits the role of priest, those serving before him to be the men of the Leivites in the prime of their life.

And you may say, That’s not fair. And I want to remind you that that charge is a charge against God. It is God who set this up. God, who is the creator of all things, And He alone limits. He has the right over all things. He could claim all of us. Instead, He limits His claim on the first born. And yet in an even more gracious act, instead of taking the first born from every tribe, he simply takes one tribe, the first born tribe. It should have been Reuben, but Reuben forfeited his right through sexual sin. And so Levi is taken. And here we see another one of God’s great acts of grace through substitution. You see it in several places. Levi is a substitution for Reuben. Levi is a substitution for all the first born, but you can also see it in the sacrificial system itself. Consecrating the Leviites, a sin offering is performed to cleanse the tabernacle. A burnt offering is performed to nullify the effects of sin. Finally, the Leviites themselves are presented in a waive offering. This is probably the first recorded example of the way. Seriously, the scholars actually think that the people of Israel lined up on both sides of the Leavites and literally waived them as an example, as a waive offering of the Leavites before the Lord.

If you continue to read through Chapter 8, you may notice a beautiful pattern that occurs there. Moses is using a chiastic pattern. In this one, it’s A, B, C, D, E, and then backwards, D, C, B, A. The pattern is that they’re make atonement, to perform service at the tent of meeting, to give to God instead of as a substitute for the first born. And then verse 17 is the E, the hinge in which the pattern shifts. Verse 17, it’s in your text. It’s the reminder that on that day God struck down all of the first born in the land of Egypt. That, of course, was the tent plague, which culminated in the release of God’s people from bondage in Egypt. And then the pattern goes backwards. As a substitute, given as a gift to perform service to make atonement. It is a beautiful piece of literature reflecting our beautiful God. But also for the Israelites, it should make some things very clear. You cannot make yourself right with God. You cannot keep all of his righteous laws. And therefore, you can’t approach him in his holiness. You can’t do it, Israel, and therefore you are guilty and without hope in your own strength and effort.

But what would also be clear to Israel is that God had provided a way. And therefore, Israel, listening to God, would have hope. It’s as if God said, Because you can’t follow my good and righteous laws, a guilty penalty must be paid. But I’ve appointed another substitute to bear it. And because you are unholy and can’t present the offering, I’ve appointed another, a substitute to offer that necessary sacrifice. Of course, in the context in numbers, that particular context was the building up to the celebration of the Passover meal. That meal, which occurred once a year, would celebrate that reality of verse 17, when God’s destroyer would pass over all the houses that were literally covered by the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. And the destroyer from God passed over, satisfied. Of course, Jesus shows us that this Passover lamb is pointing to himself, that he is the ultimate sacrifice. And in fact, all of not just the sacrifices, but the priests themselves offering sacrifices are standing in as a substitute for the one true high priest, the one perfect sacrifice. And so once a year, Israel observed that great redemption. But as they did in verse 9, we see that almost immediately Moses is presented with a problem.

Verse 6 tells us that there were certain men who were unclean through touching a dead body. And we can see in the text, their distress of missing this annual feast, of missing out on this worship celebration. We can see their determination and their love for worship. They don’t want to miss the Passover meal. And instead of just lying about their uncleanliness, after all, how could you tell somebody was unclean through touching a dead body? They could have just said, Well, I’ll fake it and blend in and no one will know. Or they could have said, ah, it’s inconvenient. I’ll skip it and go to worship later. They appeal to Moses and they ask, Why are we kept from bringing the Lord’s offering at the appointed time embedded in their petition to Moses is another question. Is there any way for us, Moses? Moses responds by asking them to wait, and he waits on our speaking God. And the Lord answers. And when he speaks, he gives another picture of his grace, another beautiful testimony that he is the God of second chances. He directs Moses. It’s not just for unclean thing, but I want you to broaden the category and include distant journeys and stating that if they’re unclean or if they’re absent on the 14th day of the first month, they can celebrate on the second month.

God is aware of the complexities in our life. He understands necessity. I had to be gone. He understands mercy. I needed to bury my dead or at least move them. And God provides a way. He’s a God of second chances in our lives as well, looking at and forgiving us for the sins of the past and giving us hope for tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what we have done. His perfect sacrifice satisfies for that. But he understands necessity and he understands mercy. Our God, our creator God, our Holy God, the glorious God has very carefully prescribed how is to be worshiped. His worship requires preparation. It requires cost. It requires sacrifice. It requires thoughtfulness. And he has every right to demand these things of us. And yet, even though those requirements are difficult and unattainable, he also graciously supplies for all of our needs through substitutes in our offerings, in our presentations, and even aware of the mercy, the times of mercy and necessity by giving a substitute day. Only God, only God, Holy and gracious would do that. Common worship. Let’s pray. Father, you are a holy God and gracious in your holiness. And Father, you are a gracious God and holy in your grace.

Father, you know us and you love us. You can see into our lives and you love us still. Though we can’t come to you in our own strength, you’ve provided a way through your son, Christ Jesus. And Father, we thank you for that. Father, you are the creator and you uphold all things, and you could require of us so much. And yet you have satisfied that in your son. Lord, I pray that you would drive that truth so deep in our lives that we can’t help but live in gratitude to you. Lord, that we would truly know what it means to be loved and cherished. And, Father, our lives would show forth that that love, that we would be light, bold, and gracious to a world that at times prefers darkness. You would let us creatively shine into that light in a way that is winsome and attractive. And you would help us as we endeavor to do that. Father, we thank you and we praise you for allowing us to come and to worship you. You are a holy God. But, Father, you take us because of your perfect son, in whose name we pray, Amen.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription