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Shepherd’s Conference (IV)

We’ve come to the mid-point of the conference (or at least the mid-point for those of us who do not stick around until Sunday afternoon). A round of seminars is beginning right now and a second round will happen immediately after these ones. I’ve decided to forego he seminars and am sitting between two buildings, in the shade, and am just enjoying the beautiful weather. It is warm, sunny and dry as a bone (as evidenced by the massive amounts of chapstick required to keep my lips from “hurting real bad!”).

This morning we had the privilege of hearing Ligon Duncan speak on the book of Numbers. His address at Together for the Gospel last year, which I really enjoyed, dealt with preaching from the Old Testament. This one was somewhat similar, but dealt with a more specific example of mining seemingly-strange and irrelevant passages of the Old Testament and using it to point to Christ. “I want you to see how exciting, practical and applicable the book of Numbers is.” Not words we are accustomed to hearing in the church!

After laying out several of the challenges of preaching from Numbers, Duncan read from 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He showed that Paul valued the book of Numbers as everything that happened to the Israelites in this passage happened in the wilderness and much of it was recorded in Numbers. Paul is telling us here how Numbers is edifying and important for us today. He says that the events recorded in Numbers actually happened for us and that God wants us to learn from them as Christians how we are to live today.

Here are nine things Paul says about the book of Numbers:

1 – The events that occurred in the wilderness were examples to us. The New Testament often uses examples from the Old Testament to draw application for the reader. The inspired writers use the Old Testament to encourage and exhort Christians to live the Christian life. Here Paul says the examples in the Old Testament happened to teach us.

2 – The events that happened in the wilderness happened as a moral warning to us. Those events are designed to warn us off from evil cravings.

3 – The Apostle does not merely say these things are recorded as examples for us but that they happened as examples for us. In God’s design, all the pain and suffering in the wilderness happened so that we can learn from it and from this we learn just how much He loves us.

4 – The events of Numbers provide exhortation to New Testament believers. God in His providence has in view New Covenant believers even in the events that happen in Numbers.

5 – Paul specifically applies this to New Testament believers in four areas. 1) Do not be idolaters. 2) Do not be immoral. 3) Do not presumptuously test the Lord. 4) Do not grumble against providence.

6 – Not only did these events happen for Christians, but they were written down for Christians. They were written for our instruction.

7 – The Apostle warns us against thinking that we will not fall like they did. Don’t think that just because you have seen the glories of the cross that you are impervious to the temptation to fall like the people in the wilderness.

8 – We are to learn from their temptations and failures in order to escape ours. Duncan quoted the old phrase “He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it” and suggested that this is the spiritual corollary.

9 – Christ is at the very center of this story and the whole wilderness experience. He is the rock and it is all about Him.

He then said that if we weren’t convinced of the value of Numbers from reading Paul, we should turn to “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.” You’ve already been singing about God guiding the believer through Numbers!

Duncan then turned to Numbers 5 which falls into three sections.

Verses 1-4 – These verses discuss physical impurities that defile and cause you to be removed from the camp.

Verses 5-10 – These verses discuss certain moral offenses that defile and cause you to be removed from the camp.

Verses 11-31 – These verses discuss domestic tensions caused by marital infidelity or the fear of it.

The purpose of this chapter is to tell us what the requirements are for a people to live close to God. Each of these impurities were a danger to the camp. From physical illnesses and diseases the people would come into contact with bacteria and other contaminants. There were no medications for this and disease could spread like wildfire. So there are obvious physical reasons to keep these people out of the camp but there were also theological reasons.

This passage also teaches us what God is like: He is holy and He is present. Because of this, there are requirements if we are to dwell near Him. The laws are God-centered, pointing us to Him and teaching us who He is and what He has done. There is also much of sin and grace in Christ.

He read verses 11-31 and pointed out five things in the passage (which he shared with us he first preached on Valentine’s Day!).

1 – The larger theological significance of this ritual. This ritual is something not wholly different from the trials of ordeal that are found in other cultures. In the ancient world when crimes were committed that could not be proven, trials of ordeal were used to prove guilt or innocence. But this is where the similarity ends. God’s ways are just and wise even when they seem strange. In the ancient world you were assumed guilty until proven innocent and cruel tests were often used. This biblical test, though, is dependent on the effectual Word of God (in this case, literally drunk in to the woman). The Word of God is effective. The test is also both controlled and public. This test is here because adultery defiles and pollutes the camp and God does not want His people to be sexually unfaithful in His camp. Belief and behavior go together; truth and practice; faith and life. God is saying through this passage that you cannot love Him and live like a pagan. You must love Him and live like a disciple. This whole passage presses home God’s concern for discipleship.

2 – What this ritual teaches us about the importance of sexual purity to the whole of the people of God. Individual sexual purity matters to the whole people. We see that this aggrieved or suspicious man may not take matters into his own hand for he must go to the priest. There is an echo of this in Jesus’ teaching where he says that issues must be told to the church. Sexual immorality is a spiritual issue and not only this, but also a people of God issue. Sexual purity is a test of faithfulness to God. Why is there only a law for a jealous husband rather than a jealous wife? Three answers: 1) Ultimately, we don’t know. 2) This does not mean that God’s law was chauvinistically tilted towards husbands. The laws of adultery extended to both husbands and wife and both were ultimately under the penalty of death. 3) There may be a logic here that is precisely designed to protect a wife who is unjustly suspected of infidelity.A husband cannot just get rid of his wife, as men could in many ancient cultures, but he must bring her before the priest. The whole ordeal involved should convince a husband of his wife’s innocence. If this can’t convince him, nothing would. This may show that men have a temptation to ungodly jealousy that women do not and so he graciously provided this as a way of dealing with this ungodly temptation.

3 – What this ritual teaches us about the appointed ordinances of God in the Scripture. We have a pictured oath here. A self-maledictory oath is pictured through this ritual. Dust from the tabernacle floor has been near the mercy seat. This is dust from holy ground. But it also reminds of a serpent who once had to lick the dust. They remember their forebearers, the Israelites who had to drink the dust of the golden calf. So God constructs a ritual that aggressively pursues the sin and encourages the person to come to repentance. The woman is acting out in a picture the word-curses of God. The ordinances of baptism picture word promises. The Lord’s table shows us that we are to pull up to the table of God and fellowship with Him. These are pictured oaths and promises.

4 – What this ritual teaches us about the importance of the marriage bond and how it relates to us as the people of God. These public measures highlight the importance of marriage and the sacredness of the marriage bond. Moses’ point is that marital infidelity is incompatible with membership in the people of God and being part of the camp. The New Testament presses this home, explicitly telling us that marriage is a picture of the gospel. It is a picture of union with Christ. For the gospel’s sake we must live out the gospel in marriage. Marriage matters to the gospel.

5 – What this ritual teaches about the work of Christ on the cross. The drinking of these curses reminds us of another who drank curses. This passage point us to the atoning work of Christ–the one who drank the cup of the Father’s wrath, who died, but who lives again.

As one who loves history and who loves the Old Testament, I really enjoyed this message and appreciate Duncan’s fervor for preaching the full counsel of God.

Tonight’s session will feature Dr. Albert Mohler. Check in later to see what he is going to share with us…


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