My family and I were on vacation to Yellowstone. We were at a beautiful lake that was full of snow-melted water. I was 12-ish and walking on the stones that were above the water. “Be careful,” I heard my dad say; “Those rocks are slick and you’re going get wet and real cold.” “Aw — I know what I’m … (ker-plunk),” I didn’t finish saying.
I always hated it when my parents told me that if I did so-and-so (something they thought to be unwise), that thus-and-so would happen. “Aw, no it won’t. Maybe to you, but I know what I’m doing,” I often thought. Then, “ker-plunk”. Maybe you can relate? They knew what they were talking about. Today’s reading has a little bit of this at the end. But before we get to that the Scripture tells us about more Israelite victories over their enemies and the choice of the eastern tribes.
In chapter 31 there’s something that could cause a little confusion that I thought I’d clear up. Back in chapter 22 Balak the king of Moab, in cahoots with the Midianites, tries to hire Balaam to curse Israel. Later, when Balak discovers the impossibility of that approach, he tries (at the advice of Balaam) to lure Israel into idolatry and sexual sin with Moabite and Midianite women at Peor (chapter 25). When the plague is stopped, God tells Moses to get revenge on Midian. Now in chapter 31 the time has arrived for “pulling the trigger” on this revenge and they — on God’s command — kill all the men and women who had known a man. You might be wondering, Why didn’t God punish the Moabites, too? Commentators mention that they see details that insinuate that Midianites were the driving force in this attempt to destroy Israel. But there may be a better reason, Moab was considered distant relatives (brothers) to Israel. Genesis 19 tells us that both the Moabites and the Ammonites were sons of Lot, Abraham’s nephew; and Deut. 2:6ff tells us that Lot’s sons were supposed to be treated differently than other occupants (non-relatives) of the area. Edom enjoyed the same status, which is why Israel avoided confrontation with them in Numbers 20. In time Moab became a client state of Israel, but not this time around. Instead, Midian took the heat.
Chapter 32 has an interesting teaching about encouragement / discouragement. Reuben and Gad (and a half of the tribe of Manasseh), because they had a lot of grazing stock, liked what they saw on the eastern side of the Jordan River. So, they approached Moses and told him that they would be happy to just stay on the eastern side, occupying the land that Israel had already conquered in their defensive wars against the kings of the region. But Moses is highly upset; he sees this as being a discouraging action just like the infamous “10 spies” incident (Num. 13)! The leaders of these tribes had not (apparently) seen the issue from that angle; but when Moses shows them the error of this path, they understand and offer a reasonable counter-offer. Let us merely house our families and animals in the cities we’ve conquered, and we’ll (the soldiers) will cross the Jordan River and fight with you to subdue the land; in fact, we won’t go home again, until you give us leave to do so. Moses agreed to this, and to their great honor, they were as good as their word.
There’s an important lesson here about discouragement for us, however. Our lives and the things that we want, don’t happen in a vacuum. What we do effects others. This isn’t said in a spirit of a “pity party”, it’s just a statement of fact:
- when Christians don’t come to church for trivial reasons, it’s discouraging to those who show up
- when Christians give poorly or covetously, it’s discouraging
- when talented Christians leave the work for others to do, because they’re retired or because it’s been a busy week; it’s discouraging
- when good Christian works or ideas go begging for workers or enthusiasm, because others need more time for themselves; it’s discouraging
… the list could go on, but you get the point. What we do doesn’t just impact us, it effects the whole body. As Paul put it, “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;” Romans 14:7, NAS95.
Lastly — getting to the point of the introduction of this blog — I have a personal note in the margin of my Bible at Numbers 33:55-56 —
“But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. ‘And as I plan to do to them, so I will do to you.’” Numbers 33:55, 56, NAS95.
My personal marginal note simply says, “And so it was!” And whatever God tells us, so it will always be. You can’t “work-around” God’s promises — the good ones or the bad ones.